Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angel Maturino Resendiz: The Railroad Killer

Sentenced to Death

Angel Maturino Resendiz has been found guilty of capital murder and today sits on death row in Livingston, Texas. All he has to look forward to is a lethal injection that will send him to God's judgment.

Jury selection for what would eventually lead to the eight-day trial of the Railroad Killer began late March 1999, in Houston, Harris County. The latest chapter of the Resendiz drama began tumultuously with his refusal to play ball even with his own lawyers. First, he refused to be tested by a court-appointed psychiatrist (although he eventually conceded), and then he chose not to accept a change of venue despite his attorneys' claims that he might not get a fair trial in Houston.

Even though Resendiz has been formally charged with the murders of seven people in total, he has only been tried and convicted of one of those killings, that of Dr. Claudia Benton, whom he slew in her home in 1998. Her body had been found a couple of weeks before Christmas, battered and broken. Several items stolen from Benton's home — including fragments of a steering column from Benton's Jeep — were later recovered by police in the house of Resendiz's girlfriend. As well, Resendiz's fingerprints were found in that same automobile

Presiding over the trial was District Judge William Harmon; chief prosecutor for the state was County District Attorney John Holmes, Jr., assisted by Devon Anderson. Court-appointed defense lawyers Allen Tanner and Rudy Duarte, aware that the state's case against their client was air tight, fought to have Resendiz committed on insanity.

The trial faced several postponements. One was caused by a delay in procuring the findings of several psychiatrists, to whose examinations Resendiz at first would not submit. Another was generated by the defense council's action to move the trial from Harris County to a place where, they felt, sentiment was less harsh against the headline-making serial killer.

A segment of the motion read, "Publicity (here) has been inflammatory and unfair and has created such hostility towards the defendant, and prejudiced the opinions of members of the community to such a degree, that it is unlikely that a verdict can be solely reached on the evidence presented at the trial."

That the court might have decided in favor of the motion was thwarted when the defendant himself refused to abide with the request. Opposed to a local trial in the outset, he changed his mind afterwards stating that he believed that no matter where he went the public mindset was already poisoned against him. Despite his attorneys' pleas, Resendiz would not consent.

After the pre-trial upsets were finally settled, the session commenced to a packed courtroom on May 8, 1999. Judge Harmon issued a gag order that muzzled lawyers from talking freely to the press, but the explosion of emotions behind the courtroom doors was pyrotechnical. Over the next week, a jury equally divided by male and female members heard a series of witnesses from both sides.

The thrust of the trial seemed to center on whether or not Resendiz was sane or insane when he committed his crimes, particularly the murder of Dr. Benton. The defense brought forth forensic psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Cohen who diagnosed the defendant as schizophrenic. Cohen claimed that "(Resendiz) did not know his conduct was wrong." Because of a mental delusion that had him believing his victims were evil, said Cohen, "(the defendant) thought he was justified in his behaviors."

However, a psychiatrist testifying in behalf of the prosecution presented an altogether different summary. Dr. Ramon Laval, while agreeing that Resendiz did have unhealthy views of women and of mankind in general, and suffered from misguided fixations, attested that Resendiz "knew what he was doing" when he murdered Dr. Benton and the others. With that, Prosecutor Holmes again reminded the jurors of the Railroad Killer's savagery unleashed upon his victims — and, before detailing Dr. Benton's murder, warned the court that it is "one of the most horrible that you will ever have the misfortune to hear."

Of the twenty-plus witnesses for the prosecution, the last and most impacting was the 23-year-old girlfriend of victim Christopher Maier. Maier and she were attacked while strolling home from a function at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Raped, bludgeoned and left for dead, she recovered to identify Resendiz as the Railroad Killer. In court, she detailed the bloody assault, which took place on August 27, 1997, near local railway tracks.

According to the witness, after Resendiz killed Maier and before he pummeled her, he sardonically told her, "You don't have to worry about him anymore."

In closing arguments, the prosecution pointed to the heinous nature of Resendiz's crimes, the premeditative nature of each, the heartlessness displayed and, especially, to the inescapable evidence of his guilt: fingerprints, palm prints and, most damaging, DNA evidence collected from the scenes of the crime.

With little weight in their favor, the defense team merely begged for the mercy of the jurors to spare the life of the murderer. Meekly, almost pathetically, attorney Rudy Duarte recalled to the jury, "(Our client) recognized he had a problem, and he turned himself in. That is something."

The jurors felt no sympathy. On May 17, 1999, after 10 hours of deliberation, the panel pronounced Angel Maturino Resendiz guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder. Despite his lawyers' pleas, the Railroad Killer was sentenced to death.

A half-hearted appeals process awash, Resendiz now awaits his fate in silence.

George Benton cannot easily forgive his wife Claudia's murderer. "It's been hard," he confesses, and remembers the day he had to tell his daughters that their mother was killed in fury.

One victim's mother summed up her life since the murder of her kin, including the terrible memories disinterred at the trial: "It was like watching a horror movie."

Angel Maturino Resendiz was executed in Huntsville, Texas, on June 27, 2006, by lethal injection.

 

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