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Khristian Oliver set to die by lethal injection

Posted: Wednesday, November 4, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 2:09 pm, Tue Jun 4, 2013.

Today, Khristian Oliver will have a four-hour visit with his family before being transferred to Huntsville. He will be given clean clothes and placed in a cell adjacent to the execution chamber. He can make phone calls from there or talk to a spiritual advisor. His last meal will be served at 4 p.m., and he requested fried chicken, a pint of chocolate ice cream and coffee. At 6 p.m., if there is no stay of execution issued from the courts or Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he will be moved into the chamber and strapped to a gurney, and his execution will begin. ——— A 32-year-old light skinned black man is scheduled to die today. He's a man who has never seen his 10-year-old daughter for whom he made teddy bears out of wash cloths and stuffed with cotton from his cell on death row ... a man with soft spoken, dedicated parents who do not want to see their son die. His scheduled death tonight by lethal injection is because in 1999, he was convicted of brutally murdering 64-year-old Joe Collins in the elderly man's Nacogdoches County home. Collins' face was so badly disfigured, defense lawyers argued over whether photographs of it should even be shown to the jury, according to previously published accounts of the trial. A family man, this father of five, made the rounds each day to visit his children who lived nearby, the Daily Sentinel reported in 1998 shortly after his murder. His grandchildren were "number one in his life," family members said at the time. But it's been more than 10 years after Collins died during what prosecutors then believed was a burglary gone wrong. The Collins family declined to be interviewed until after the execution, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. today in Huntsville. The man and the crime Khristian Oliver was a generous and thoughtful son who loved people, according to his mother, Katie Oliver, during a recent interview. But former district attorney Tim James, who prosecuted Oliver, said he had a "whole criminal career they his parents didn't know about." Oliver was with his girlfriend, Sonya Reed, and two friends, brothers Benny, then 15, and Lonny Rubalcaba, then 16, both from Cushing, on March 17, 1998, when they broke into Collins' home. "They went that night looking for a house to break into, or something," Katie Oliver said. She said although they had loaned Sonya money to get a divorce from her husband, she needed more money. According to Daily Sentinel articles covering the trial of Khristian Oliver in April 1999, the group was out driving when Oliver began targeting several businesses to possibly rob later that evening. While on the way to find marijuana, Oliver spotted Collins' house appearing empty on Camp Tonkawa Road. Lonny and Oliver broke into the home using bolt cutters on the front pad lock while Benny and Sonya, who was pregnant, posed as look outs in the car parked on the side of the roadway. But Collins returned home as the boys were searching his house for guns, and they hid in a back bedroom when they heard him coming. They were trapped inside, because the back door was also locked from the outside with a pad lock. Collins entered the bedroom with a weapon and shot Lonny in the leg as Oliver fled. According to both Rubalcaba brothers, Oliver had a .380 pistol with him, which he had nicknamed "Silver." Several shots rang out before Oliver returned to help Lonny outside. As Sonya and Benny helped Lonny to the car, Oliver allegedly beat Collins with the butt of the man's rifle. The brothers described Oliver as swinging the rifle like a golf club then an axe. The four then fled. Later that night, Lonny sought medical treatment at a hospital in Nacogdoches, and the brothers told police Lonny had been at "the farm," a popular drinking spot in Cushing, when a drive-by shooting occurred. As law enforcement began pointing out holes in their story, the Rubalcabas started to tell a different story. But by this time, Oliver and Sonya were had made their way to a hotel in Houston. Ronnie Coats, a neighbor, found Collins body the next day as he went to check on cows, and the pieces of the previous night of terror started to fall together. All four were arrested and within days, they were charged with of the murder of Joe Collins, the Sentinel reported. Parents' faith But Oliver's parents cannot believe their son could have killed Collins. Oliver's father, Kermit, said he has not asked his son what happened in case he was ever called to testify. "I don't think Khristian did it," Kermit said. "Mr. Collins ... his actions provoked a lot of this," Kermit said, referring to the fact that Collins fired the first shot. He believes that maybe the Rubalcaba brothers shared in Collins demise. He said he thinks it is possible Lonny shot Collins after being shot himself, and that in a rage over his brother being shot, Benny beat Collins with the rifle. Katie, on the other hand, has an entirely different idea of what happen. She believes Collins was alive when her son and friends left his property. She said her son did not shoot anyone, but that Lonny had shot Collins, and both Collins and Oliver ran for the front door, reaching it at the same time and getting momentarily stuck in the door frame together. Sonya was trying to drive away, but Oliver and Benny made her turn around. "Khristian went back to the house, went back inside, got the boy who was shot and literally picked him up and carried him out of the house," Katie said, a task that was not easy considering Oliver's small build. She said there was a lot of confusion that night, but both Oliver and Sonya later said they heard Benny cursing and hitting something, but they were not sure where he was. As a devote Christian, when Oliver had not returned home during this time, Katie prayed to know where he was. She called on the Bible's claims that if you ask you shall receive. Katie claims she was taken by an angel to the scene of the incident that night where Collins was alive, but her son and his friends had left. She described a man that Collins knew walked up while Collins was still lying injured in his yard. She said Collins appeared afraid at first, because he could not see well and feared the boys had returned. But then, Collins recognized the man and was relieved. "He said, 'Oh it's you. I'm sure glad it is you. I need to get to the hospital. I'm hurt,'" Katie said. Then the men proceeded to get into a fight, the mystery man was the one who actually shot Collins multiple times and beat him. She went as far as to say the man was a relative of Collins. She claims this was not a vision but an actual experience given to her by God. The evidence But the former district attorney had no doubts Oliver was responsible for Collins' death. "In fact, evidence at trial was overwhelming," James said. Sonya Reed had her own tales of visions. James said Sonya claimed to have had a vision in prison of herself and her child playing in a field of clover. Because of the vision, she turned down a plea agreement which would have given her 10 years in prison and opted to go to trial. She is now serving a 99-year sentence. Benny and Lonny Rubalcaba accepted plea agreements and spent five and 10 years in prison, respectively. He said the only blood from Collins they found was on Oliver's clothes, including the back of his pants, likely from when he raised the rifle over his head to hit Collins. He said no one else had Collins' blood on their clothes. Katie said she was told the Rabalcabas' mother washed their clothes before they took Lonny to the hospital. However, James said Lonny was covered in blood, but it was his own. Collins had five gunshot wounds plus contusions from the beating for a total of 17 injuries. Dr. James Bruce, a Lufkin pathologist, testified during the trial that any one of the gunshot wounds or the repeated blunt trauma could have caused Collins' death, according to Daily Sentinel articles. Collins' face was badly disfigured and looked like a "caved-in cantaloupe," James said. Because of the heinous nature of the crime, James decided to pursue the death penalty. He said he first discussed it with the Collins siblings, who thought it was an appropriate decision. Yet, the Olivers claim they were approached twice by Collins' sons saying they had asked the district attorney not to pursue the death penalty. Prison Having Oliver on death row for almost 11 years now has not been easy for the Oliver family. Years of being in constant crisis as they tried to save their son from death, so far, with no success, has taken its toll. "I was really disappointed when the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn't hear his case," Kermit said. Describing themselves as "naturally reclusive," the couple says this incident has simply made them more so. Their granddaughter used to visit them once a month. When that became too stressful for her, Katie and Kermit went to visit her. Yet, with all the turmoil she was born into, the child finally decided not to see her grandparents at all, according to the Olivers. They have not seen her since 2007. But they still continued to frequently visit their son on death row, housed in the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. Katie says prison has not been all bad for Oliver, even though he does get depressed at times and has attempted suicide. "Being in prison has been a saving grace for him," she said. It has given him time to reflect on life and to see what he actually gave up. He has also grown in his talent as an artist, which his parents have encouraged him to pursue since he was small. He is limited in his resources on death row but does paintings in water color and he sketches, mostly natural things like fruit, his father said, but some with juxtaposition. The trial Oliver's case gained national attention after it appeared in local media that jurors had referenced the Bible while deliberating his sentence. Some discussed passages in small groups while others read to themselves. The main passages mentioned were from Numbers 35:16-17 and Exodus 20:13 and have to do with one man killing another. Many of Oliver's appeals have been based on this topic, but as of press time, all had been denied. Kermit calls jurors' actions, "legally not correct" and "outrageous." "We live under a new covenant," Kermit said, referring to the New Testament. "It's really a misapplication of Biblical text." James says those claims are irrelevant, because the evidence against Oliver was so strong, which is why none of the appeals have worked. "We believe the trial wasn't as fair as it could have been," Katie said. She said no blacks in the jury pool were selected, and the trial was rushed. Katie believes the jury was surprised when the verdict was read, and that she heard one of the jurors say, "I voted no." The Olivers believe the brothers were coached on their testimony to pin the murder on Oliver and that their mother was even coaching them in the courtroom with hand gestures. James said Oliver, who was defended by Mike DeGeurin, had the finest defense lawyer in the Southwest. DeGuerin argued to have the Rubalcabas' mother removed from the courtroom. He also focused on their unsupervised visits with their mother while in jail, which was policy for juveniles, during his defense. During sentencing, James brought in one of Oliver's friends who described a series of earlier robberies in Waco and Corsicana. This week The Olivers have been traveling to Livingston from Waco daily this week for eight-hour visits with their son. They say he is holding up "pretty well." Although their child is scheduled to die tonight, the Olivers have not given up. "I am hopeful," Katie said. "I never stop praying." "I try ... anticipating it all will be corrected," Kermit said. Members of Oliver's and Collins' families are expected to attend the execution. Closure In a 1998 published interview with the Collins siblings days after the murder, the reporter wrote, "they said their father's funeral Saturday provided comfort and a small amount of closure, but until justice is served, they will continue to feel the pain and heartache that violent crime leaves in its wake." It remains to be seen if today's events will bring any relief for either family. ——— Christy Wooten is a former photographer for The Daily Sentinel. She is now affiliated with The Facts in Clute, a sister Southern Newspapers Inc. publication to The Daily Sentinel. She is scheduled to attend Oliver's execution today.

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