HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- An East Texas man who pleaded guilty to killing a neighbor couple during a shooting rampage 13 years ago and said he wanted to be put to death for the crime was executed Wednesday evening.
Barney Fuller Jr., 58, had asked that all his appeals be dropped to expedite his death sentence.
Fuller never made eye contact in the death chamber with witnesses, who included the two children of the slain couple.
Asked by Warden James Jones if he had any final statement, Fuller responded: “I don’t have anything to say. You can proceed on, Warden Jones.”
Fuller took a deep breath as Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials injected a lethal dose of pentobarbital into each arm, then blurted out: “Hey, you fixin’ to put me to sleep.”
He took a couple of breaths, then began snoring. Within 30 seconds, all movement stopped.
Fuller was pronounced dead 38 minutes later, at 7:01 p.m. CDT. The time between when the drug was injected and when he was pronounced dead was somewhat longer than normal.
“Each person is unique in how his body shuts down,” prison agency spokesman Jason Clark said, explaining the extended time.
Fuller became the seventh convicted killer executed this year in Texas and the first in six months in the nation’s most active capital punishment state.
Fuller surrendered peacefully at his home outside Lovelady, about 100 miles north of Houston, after a middle-of-the-night shooting frenzy in May 2003 that left his neighbors, Nathan Copeland, 43, and Copeland’s wife, Annette, 39, dead inside their rural home. The couple’s 14-year-old son survived two gunshot wounds, and their 10-year-old daughter escaped injury because Fuller couldn’t turn the light on in her bedroom.
Court records show Fuller, armed with a shotgun, a semi-automatic carbine and a pistol, fired 59 shots before barging into the Copeland home and opening fire again. He had been charged with making a threatening phone call to Annette Copeland, and the neighbors had been engaged in a 2-year dispute over that.
The Reuters news agency reports the gun was an AR-15 assault weapon and that the Copelands had also complained to police that Fuller had shot their dog, according to court documents.
Fuller pleaded guilty to capital murder. He declined to appear in court at his July 2004 trial and asked that the trial’s punishment phase go on without his presence. He only entered the courtroom when jurors returned with his sentence.
Last year, Fuller asked that nothing be done to prolong his time on death row.
“I do not want to go on living in this hellhole,” he wrote to attorney Jason Cassel.
A federal judge in June ruled Fuller competent to drop his appeals after he testified at a hearing that he was “ready to move on.”
Fuller had irritated neighbors with his frequent gunfire and was summoned to court in 2003 to address a charge that he made a threatening phone call two years earlier after complaints he shot out an electrical transformer providing power to the Copelands’ home.
“Happy New Year,” he told Annette Copeland in the Jan. 1, 2001, call. “I’m going to kill you.”
William House, one of Fuller’s trial lawyers, said Fuller thought when he got a court notice “that they were stirring up some more stuff and he just kind of twisted off.”
Court records showed he seethed over the court appearance and began drinking. Two nights later, he grabbed his guns and extra ammunition clips and went to the Copelands’ home about 200 yards away.
House described Fuller as “just a strange bird” who was “very adamant” about not attending his own murder trial.
“I think we did everything we were supposed to and did the best we could but didn’t have a whole lot to work with,” House said.
A sheriff’s department dispatcher who took Annette Copeland’s 911 call about 1:30 a.m. on May 14, 2003, heard a man say: “Party’s over, bitch,” followed by a popping sound. Annette Copeland was found with three bullet wounds to her head.
On Wednesday evening, one of her sisters who watched Fuller die said as she left the death chamber: “Party’s over, bastard.”
Cindy Garner, the former Houston County district attorney who prosecuted Fuller, described him as mean and without remorse.
“It’s not a cheerful situation,” she said of the execution. “I just regret that this little, plain, country, nice, sweet family - bless their heart - moved in next door.”
Fuller’s execution was only the 16th in the U.S. this year, a downturn fueled by fewer death sentences overall, courts halting scheduled executions for additional reviews, and some death penalty states encountering difficulties obtaining drugs for lethal injections.
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