Man put to death for killing two Houston opera singers in 1988
HUNTSVILLE — A man who maintained he was unfairly convicted of the 1988 slayings of two Houston opera singers was executed Tuesday evening.
Derrick Jackson, 42, was put to death for the fatal beatings and slashings of Forrest Henderson and Richard Wrotenbery. The two 31-year-old men were in the Houston Grand Opera chorus.
Their September 1988 slayings inside Henderson’s apartment went unsolved for years, until a bloody fingerprint from the murder scene was matched to Jackson in 1995. By then, Jackson was in prison serving a 12-year term for aggravated robbery.
Jackson said nothing Tuesday when the warden asked if he would like to make a final statement. He never moved, staring at the ceiling of the death chamber, as the injection of the lethal drugs began. He was pronounced dead eight minutes later.
Jackson’s father, who wept quietly, and two brothers were among people watching the execution.
Carl Wrotenbery, the father of one victim, was in an adjacent witness room.
No last-day appeals were made to the courts to try to block the 15th lethal injection this year in Texas, which executes the most inmates nationwide. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected an appeal Monday, and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down a clemency request.
Jackson was arrested in 1992 for three robberies and took a plea bargain that sent him to prison. He was there when detectives working cold cases and using new computer databases matched his fingerprint to one at the scene of the murders.
Jackson said bad decisions led to burglaries and robber-- ies and ultimately the prison term, but he denied involvement in the killings.
Fingerprints on a beer can, a glass and a doorknob were linked to Jackson. Stains on bathroom towels matched his DNA.
“Technology caught up with him,” said Bill Hawkins, a Harris County district attorney who prosecuted the case.
Hawkins said the odds against the DNA match actually belonging to someone other than Jackson were “off the charts.”
Richard Wrotenbery also taught music at an elementary school in the Houston suburb of Deer Park. He had been house-sitting at Henderson’s apartment after a divorce until he could find a place of his own. Henderson had just returned to Houston after performing with the opera in Scotland.
The day of the slayings, Sept. 10, 1988, Wrotenbery and Henderson, both tenors, had been rehearsing for an opera production of Bizet’s “Carmen.”
Wrotenbery went to the apartment after rehearsals. Henderson went to some bars and may have met Jackson at one and took him home.
Evidence showed that Henderson was stabbed in the chest. Wrotenbery’s throat was slashed. Both were bludgeoned with a heavy metal bar that could have been part of a weight set. Wrotenbery may have been asleep when he was killed.
Derrick Jackson ‘Technology caught up with him,’ prosecutor in case says.