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Mauro Morris BARRAZA





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Rape - Robbery - Juvenile (17)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 14, 1989
Date of birth: May 5, 1972
Victim profile: Vilorie Nelson, 73
Method of murder: Died from a crushing blunt injury to the chest caused by her assailant jumping in the air and landing on Nelson with his knees
Location: Tarrant County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 30, 1991. Commuted to life in prison on June 22, 2005

United States Court of Appeals
For the Fifth Circuit


opinion 02-10979


Texas Attorney General

Media Advisory: Mauro Morris Barraza Scheduled For Execution

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott offers the following information on Mauro Morris Barraza, who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 29, 2004.

On April 8, 1991, Mauro Morris Barraza was sentenced to die for the capital murder of Vilorie Nelson in her Haltom City Home in June 1989. A summary of the evidence presented at trial follows.


Joy Nelson, the victim’s daughter, returned home from work at approximately 6:45 on the evening on June 14, 1989, and discovered her mother’s body on the floor of her bedroom covered with a bedspread. The house was in disarray, with drawers pulled open, furniture turned over, and her mother’s mattress askew. She found a pair of garden shears in the dining room and a pair of scissors in the backyard. Further investigation alerted Joy Nelson that property was missing, including jewelry and a carton of cigarettes.

An autopsy determined that wounds to Vilorie Nelson’s head indicated that her assailant had struck her at least twice with garden shears, possibly knocking her unconscious. However, these injuries were not fatal, and Nelson ultimately died from a crushing blunt injury to the chest caused by her assailant jumping in the air and landing on Nelson with his knees.

On the day of the murder, four of Nelson’s neighbors saw Barraza walk down Nelson’s street and jump a fence into Nelson’s backyard. The investigation of Nelson’s murder led to the arrest and indictment of Barraza on the charge of capital murder.

Subsequent to his arrest, Barraza gave a statement to police that described in detail his version of the murder. Barraza stated that he and another man knocked on Nelson’s door and no one answered. After knocking on other doors and walking up and down the street, Barraza went behind a neighbor’s house and climbed over the fence into Nelson’s backyard. Barraza then removed the screen from a window, opened the window, and entered the house. Once inside, Barraza heard the television on and saw Vilorie Nelson sitting in front of it. Barraza picked up some shears and walked into the living room, where he struck the victim once on the right side of the head. After she fell over, Barraza hit her again.

Barraza then removed her underwear and threw a tablecloth over her. He claimed that he then started jumping on her chest with his knees. Barraza also admitted searching the house and finding the victim’s jewelry, a carton of cigarettes, and some other items, which he took.

A police fingerprint expert testified that he found Barraza’s fingerprints on a bedroom window screen. Additionally, a DNA specialist and a forensic biologist testified that forensic evidence revealed that, as Nelson lay dying, Barraza sexually assaulted her.


  • Sept. 21, 1989 — A Tarrant County grand jury indicted Barraza for the capital murder of Vilorie Nelson while in the course of committing burglary of the habitation.

  • Apr. 5, 1991 — A jury found Barraza guilty of capital murder.

  • Apr. 8, 1991 — Following a separate punishment hearing, the court assessed a sentence of death.

  • Oct. 4, 1994 — The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Barraza’s conviction and sentence.

  • Nov. 9, 1994 — The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to rehear the case.

  • May 1, 1995 — The U.S. Supreme Court denied Barraza’s first petition for writ of certiorari

  • June 29, 1995 — Barraza filed an application for writ of habeas corpus in the trial court.

  • Dec. 9, 1998 — Based on the recommendation of the trial court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Barraza’s application for writ of habeas corpus.

  • June 1, 1999 — Barraza filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division.

  • Oct. 4, 1999 — The U.S. Supreme Court denied Barraza’s second petition for writ of certiorari.

  • July 31, 2002 — The federal district court denied Barraza’s petition for habeas relief.

  • Sept. 6, 2002 — The federal district court denied permission to appeal.

  • Dec. 11, 2002 — Barraza requested permission to appeal from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • May 1, 2003 — The Fifth Circuit denied permission to appeal in a published opinion.

  • July 29, 2003 — Barraza filed a third petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Oct. 14, 2003 — The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition.

  • June 16, 2004 — Barraza filed a subsequent application for writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Criminal Appeals. The application is pending.


On May 20, 1988, Barraza burglarized Carson Row’s house, stealing jewelry, money, cassette tapes, and cigarette lighters. In the spring of 1989, Barraza broke into a vacant house in Haltom City, but did not steal anything because there was nothing to take. Also in 1989, Barraza burglarized Cowtown Racing. Barraza also claimed that he burglarized a house in Granbury, Texas. On March 23, 1991, after returning to the Tarrant County Jail from a court hearing in his capital murder case, Barraza swore at a correctional officer and repeatedly slammed a phone receiver into the wall.


Granted a stay of execution by the US Supreme Court pending a decision in Simmons.

Case Overview

The Crime

On June 14, 1989, Barraza violently attacked and sexually assaulted 73- year-old Vilorie Nelson in her home during the course of a burglary. He murdered her by jumping on her chest and purposefully landing on her with his knees several times, crushing her heart and major blood vessels.

Her dead body was found when her daughter, Joy Nelson, arrived home from work later that day. Barraza claimed he was intoxicated at the time of the offence; he was high on crack and cocaine.

The Trial

Mauro Morris Barraza was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection by a jury in Tarrant County. The defence was insanity. At his trial, Barraza presented expert testimony that he suffered from a drug psychosis, a severe mental disease that prevented him from forming the requisite intent to kill.

On cross-examination, this same expert testified that Barraza suffered from an organic brain disorder as a result of his long-term addiction to drugs and alcohol. In the conclusion to his direct testimony, this expert testified that when Barraza is on a certain "collection of drugs" he could be expected to be violent, but that most of his life he had not shown violent behaviour.

Based upon this evidence, the trial court allowed defensive charges on the issues of insanity and temporary insanity. The state countered with two experts who testified that Barraza had no mental disease or defect and understood that what he had done was wrong. They also contended that Barraza was faking.

After Barraza had exhausted his direct appeal, the state trial court set an execution date. Barraza's state habeas petition was then filed on June 29, 1995, and the execution date was lifted to allow the state habeas to proceed. The state habeas judge granted Barraza's request for money to obtain psychiatric testing, responding to the argument that the possibility of organic brain damage had been raised at trial.

On January 30, 1996, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion at which it heard the testimony of Barraza's expert, Dr. J. Douglas Crowder, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at Southwestern Medical School.

Dr. Crowder expressed the opinion that the testing done by Drs. Coons, Peek, and Parker, who all testified at trial, was inadequate and that more testing would be necessary to rule out the possibility of organic brain damage. The trial court did not rule immediately. Rather, it asked that Barraza be examined by a competent expert appointed by the court.

Then in a hearing held on May 6, 1996, Dr. Melissa Renee Ferguson, the court-appointed expert, testified that Barraza understood the death penalty, was competent to be executed, and had no significant deficits which would indicate the need to go further. The court then refused to fund more testing, finding no objective reason for more testing. These findings were adopted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

A similar request for funding to the United States District Court followed, supported by an affidavit of Dr. Crowder, essentially stating that he adhered to his view that further testing was needed despite Dr. Ferguson's testimony. The federal district court found no objective reason for more testing and refused the requested funding.


Texas, USA. Governor Commutes 28 Death Sentences

June 22, 2005

Gov. Rick Perry commuted the death sentences of 28 convicted killers. Perry ordered the commutations in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in March that the Constitution forbids executing anyone for a crime committed before the age of 18.

The inmates with commuted sentences are:

Robert Aaron Acuna, Steven Brian Alvarado, Randy Arroyo, Mark Sam Arthur, Johnnie Bernal, Edward Brian Capetillo, Raymond Levi Cobb, John Curtis Dewberry, Justin Wiley Dickens, Tony Tyrone Dixon, Derek Jermaine Guillen, Jimmy Jackson, Eddie C. Johnson, Anzel Keon Jones, Leo Little, Michael Lopez, Jose Ignacio Monterrubio, Efrain Perez, Whitney Lee Reeves, Jorge Alfredo Salinas, Christopher Julian Solomon, Oswaldo Regalado Soriano, Robert Springsteen IV, Son Vu Khai Tran, Raul Omar Villarreal, Bruce Williams, Nanon McKewn Williams and Geno Capoletti Wilson.

One other capital murderer who was 17 at the time of his crime, Mauro Morris Barraza, was already given a reformed sentence by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Convicted murderer Patrick Horn is in federal custody and Gov. Perry has not commuted his sentence at this time.

(Sources: KWTX News, Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Associated Press, 22/06/2005)



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