Suzanne Basso and the Murder of Louis 'Buddy' Musso
Fingerpointing at Trial
Texas District Judge Mary Lou Keel ruled that most of the six suspects should be tried separately.
Basso's son, James O'Malley, would go first, beginning on April 13, 1999.
The trials would continue with Craig Ahrens, also in April; his mother, Bernice Ahrens Miller, and Terence Singleton together in May; and Hope Ahrens in June.
Sue Basso would be last, with a trial scheduled to begin in July.
Prosecutors Colleen Barnett and Denise Nassar had a very busy four months.
In her opening remarks at the first trial, Nassar painted a vivid picture of Buddy Musso's heartbreaking hope.
"He wanted a wife and family more than anything in the world," she told jurors. "He got on that Greyhound bus wearing cowboy boots and a hat. He was coming to Texas."
James O'Malley mounted the witness stand to testify that he felt pressured by his mother to take part in the killing.
"I didn't know what else to do," he said. "I was scared of my mother."
His testimony gave jurors a glimpse of Musso's treatment at the hands of the Texans. The abuse began soon after he arrived in Houston but escalated near the end.
Musso was frequently handcuffed—sometimes at home, sometimes in the back seat of the car while the group enjoyed a meal in a restaurant.
O'Malley said Musso was forced to kneel on a mat and was denied food and water. He cried frequently and was beaten in retaliation. Denied access to a toilet, he wet himself and was beaten more.
The defendant claimed that the endgame beatings began because Musso had either lied about breaking the ornament or failed to obey Basso.
O'Malley said he dunked Musso four or five times in a bathtub filled with household cleaning products and bleach. Basso poured alcohol over the victim's head while O'Malley scrubbed him bloody with a wire brush.
At testimony's end, the jury quickly convicted James O'Malley of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
At the trial of Bernice Ahrens, 55, and her son, Craig, 26, each admitted in confessions read to the jury that they hit Musso, but both fingered Sue Basso as the primary culprit.
After the murder, Bernice Ahrens said in a statement to police, "(Basso) said we had to make a pact, that we can't say anything about what happened. She said if we get mad at each other we can't say anything."
The jury convicted both of murder. The mother got 80 years, the son 60.
At his trial, Terence Singleton admitted that he kicked Musso and hit him with a baseball bat. But his confession—read to jurors—tried to implicate James O'Malley and Sue Basso as the most highly culpable.
"The blows that killed him are the blows of Susan hitting him with the vacuum and James constantly kicking him in the back of the head," Singleton stated to police. "I know he didn't die from us hitting him because he had been up and responsive."
The jury judged Singleton equally responsible. It convicted him of capital murder and gave him life in prison.