Houston Chronicle

Killer maintains innocence to the end

Brown is executed for the 1992 shootings of a pregnant woman, three others at drug den

- By Sam González Kelly STAFF WRITER

HUNTSVILLE — Some death row inmates use their last words to express love to their families. Some use them to express remorse to their victims. Some say nothing at all.

Arthur Brown Jr. did none of those things. Brown, strapped to a gurney in the teal brick Huntsville death chamber, calmly maintained his innocence to the end, saying he and a co-defendant who was previously executed had been unfairly condemned to die. He was executed at the Texas State Penitentia­ry on Thursday night after spending more than 30 years on death row for the murders of a pregnant woman and three other people during a drug house robbery in southwest Houston in 1992.

“What is occurring here tonight is not justice. It is the murder of an innocent man for a murder that occurred in 1992,” he said.

Brown was killed by lethal injection in the death chamber after a flurry of 11th-hour legal filings that aimed to establish that he was intellectu­ally disabled and that prosecutor­s wrongfully withheld evidence that could have earned him a new trial. But a succession of local, state and federal courts slapped down his requests, and at 6:20 p.m., after Brown had laid out those claims one last time, a lethal dose of pentobarbi­tal was injected into his arms.

His chest began rapidly rising and falling, and he started to snore. Thirty seconds later he was still. He was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m.

The victims’ family members shouted “justice” as they emerged from the prison, as supporters who waited outside with noisemaker­s cheered them on. At the other end of the block, about a dozen death penalty protesters held a vigil for Brown.

“To people that are out there who still have people that have hurt them, don’t give up. Fight it ... let justice come to you, just like it came to me today,” said Rachel Tovar, a victim of Brown’s who survived the shooting and was on site to witness the execution.

A jury found Brown and accomplice­s Marion Dudley and Anthony “Antonio” Dunson guilty of the killings. Witnesses said the trio had traveled from Alabama to Houston in 1992 and carried out the execution-style murders of a group of people

from whom they had planned to buy drugs. Brown and his partners were said to have tied up the six victims — Rachel and Jose Tovar, their son Frank Farias, their pregnant daughterin-law Jessica Quinones, their neighbor Audrey Brown and acquaintan­ce Nicholas Cortez — before shooting each in the head in rooms throughout the house on Brownstone Lane.

Quinones, who was among the dead, was 19 and seven months pregnant. Nicholas Cortez and Rachel Tovar, who crawled to a neighbor’s house for help, survived the shooting.

The three men were convicted of capital murder and two were sentenced to execution. Dudley, who, along with Brown, maintained his innocence, was executed in 2006, and Dunson is eligible for parole in 2027.

Rachel Tovar’s 1993 testimony was central to the last-ditch efforts to stay the execution. Brown’s defense team argued that prosecutor­s withheld medical records that could have shown Tovar had suffered significan­t brain damage from the bullet wound to her head. The Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, which took over Brown’s post-conviction defense last year, also said that the prosecutio­n withheld a transcript of Tovar’s son’s interview with police, in which he suggests a different man could have carried out the shootings.

Additional concerns raised by Brown’s defense lawyers include the testimony of Brown’s sister, who initially said that her brother told her he had shot six people. She recanted her testimony under cross-examina-with tion, however, saying that police had threatened to take away her children. They also pointed out that a white juror in Brown’s trial said she knew Brown was a “thug” and guilty as soon as he walked into the courtroom.

The Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, a Texas public defender’s office, took over Brown’s case in 2022 after his previous lawyer, Paul Mansur, admitted he was unable to provide “minimally competent representa­tion.” The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday denied the office’s request to halt the execution, and the U.S. Supreme Court also declined to step in.

“We are disappoint­ed that Mr. Brown was executed without any court reviewing the merit of his claims of innocence, prosecutor­ial misconduct and intellectu­al disability,” Benjamin Wolff, director of the Office of Capital and Forensic Writs, said in a statement.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, on the other hand, accused Brown of using the various avenues of the criminal justice system to his benefit.

“He has been the beneficiar­y of a judicial system that bent over backwards at the local, state and federal level, all the way to the United States Supreme Court, who have all affirmed his conviction and his sentence,” Ogg said. “The anguish that these families have felt for the last 31 years is really not imaginable by any of us.”

Joshua Reiss, chief of the post-conviction writs division for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, claimed that defense attorneys could have obtained Tovar’s medical records at any point in the last 30 years, and that initial trial lawyers mentioned the interview her son in their closing arguments, suggesting they were aware of its existence from the beginning. Mansur, who represente­d Brown from 2009 until last year, said he did not recall ever seeing Tovar’s medical history or the interview with her son.

“(Brown’s new attorneys) needed to demonstrat­e to us that his prior attorneys could not have made these arguments before,” Reiss said. “And even if we assumed that what they were saying (about the evidence) is true, it wouldn’t have mattered to the outcome of the trial because a reasonable juror could still find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Reiss said the evidence against Brown was "devastatin­g." Law enforcemen­t officials linked the guns to Brown in court and documented his flight from Houston following the shooting, in addition to survivors’ testimony. In 2017, however, two independen­t firearms experts hired by Brown’s team argued that Houston police overstated the ballistics evidence in the initial trial and did not prove that the guns used in the shooting were connected to Brown.

Reiss said he has “no doubt in the righteousn­ess of this conviction.”

Wolff, on the defense team, said requests for a stay were dismissed on a “technicali­ty.”

“We should all want certainty when it comes to the death penalty. But the courts dismissed our petition on a technicali­ty: they found that these claims should have been raised sooner,” he said.

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