On Oct. 29, the United States Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch plea to re-hear evidence related to the conviction of Elroy Chester, who was sentenced to die for the 1998 murder of Port Arthur firefighter Willie Ryman III. Chester was alleged to have killed the firefighter when Ryman came to the rescue of his two nieces while Chester was raping the teen girls in their home.
According to criminal records at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “While in police custody, Chester confessed to this crime, two other murders, and three attempts to commit capital murder. Chester stated that he committed these offenses because he was out his mind ‘with hate for white people’ due to a disagreement with a white staff member over a disciplinary report during a previous TDCJ incarceration.”
Chester’s attorneys have insisted the accused murderer is mentally retarded and should be spared a death sentence.
Although investigators agree that Chester had low-performing scores on some intellectual assessment examinations, Judge J. Womack of the 252nd Judicial District Court of Jefferson County penned an opinion in 2007 that suggested the court take into account whether Chester suffered “significant deficits in adaptive functioning, usually expressed by limited conceptual, social and practical skills.”
Womack argued Chester was in control of his own actions, and “in all of his crimes he acted independently of others instead of being led around.” Additionally, he said, “the court found that the specifics of the various crimes to which (Chester) confessed, including the use of masks and gloves, his practice of cutting exterior phone lines before entering homes to burglarize, and his deliberate targeting of victims ... showed persuasively that the applicant was capable of forethought, planning, and complex execution of purpose.”
Five dead, others scarred for life
According to evidence presented at court, Chester stalked a teenage victim on the night of Feb. 6, 1998. The target, then 17, was home alone with her 1-year-old son.
Unbeknownst to the young mother, Chester was walking through her neighborhood, searching for a place to burglarize. He had with him a pair of gloves, a knitted hat in which he had cut two holes to make a ski mask, and a gun he had stolen in a previous burglary.
Once Chester was confident the girl was alone, he cut the phone lines – a technique he later said was his normal practice when committing a burglary. He checked the door; it was unlocked. After gaining entry, Chester grabbed the victim by the hair, held the gun to her head, and demanded money or jewelry. Forcing his hostage to lead him through her home, Chester acquired duct tape from the home’s garage and jewelry from a bedroom in the residence.
In quick succession, the teen’s younger sister arrived at the home along with her boyfriend. Under the threat of being shot in the head, Chester was able subdue all three teens, stripping them of their clothes and binding them with tape.
Chester proceeded to sexually assault the two girls until a car approached the home. At that time, Chester ran into the kitchen to dress himself, and then went to stand by the side door to wait for the person approaching, who turned out to be Willie Ryman, the girls’ uncle.
Ryman opened the door and turned on the light. Upon entering, Chester shot Ryman and dragged the dying man into the kitchen. Chester ran outside and noticed Ryman’s girlfriend, Marcia Sharp, waiting in the driveway in Ryman’s vehicle. While Ryman lay bleeding inside, Chester unloaded five shots at Sharp through the vehicle’s windows, none striking its target.
Investigators contend that the events surrounding Ryman’s murder were the culmination of a six-month spree of criminal activity in which Chester burglarized at least five residences, sexually assaulted two people, murdered at least five people, and fired shots at no fewer than five others. Among the crimes Chester eventually confessed to committing during this period were the burglary and homicide of John Henry Sepeda, killed as he awoke in bed while Chester was robbing his home; the murder of Albert Bolden, the killer’s common-law brother-in-law, for setting Chester up on a date with a woman who turned out to be a transvestite; the burglary and homicide of Etta Stallings, also shot to death in her bedroom while Chester robbed the home; and the murder of Cheryl DeLeon, a former co-worker Chester was accused of sexually harassing years before he ambushed her outside her home and shot her in the head.
Chester now says he is now a Christian, having turned his life over to Christ inside a Texas prison. In a profile listing for prison pen pals, Chester said his interests now are along the lines of “music from the ’80s (rap and R&B) movies (drama, action and horror), basketball, checkers and dominoes.” He said he was “looking for a friend.”
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has yet to announce an execution date for Chester.