Simon Rumley’s ‘ film ‘Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word’ is set for a March release. One thing that adds to the terror of the film is that is based on a true story. So, who was the real Frank Johnny Garrett, you might ask? Let me fill you in.
On October 31, 1981, at 7:30 a.m., the battered, bloodied, dead body of 76-year-old Sister Teadea Benz was discovered inside the St. Francis Convent in Potter County, Texas. The sister was found in her second story bedroom brutally attacked, raped, stabbed, and strangled.
Clues, including finger prints, led police to one suspect and on November 9, 1981 Johnny Frank Garrett, who lived across the street from the convent, was arrested for Sister Benz’s murder.
Garrett was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. He would spent his remaining days on death row in Huntsville, Texas. He was originally scheduled for execution on January 2, 1992, but was granted a temporary reprieve thanks to Pope John Paul II’s request to the governor for clemency. His final day on earth would be February 11, 1992. He executed by lethal injection at the age of 28 and maintained his innocence until his last breath.
Garrett’s last words:
I would like to thank my friends and family, and I would like to thank my guru, and everyone else who has helped me get through all this. For the rest of this world, well, you can kiss my ever-loving ass because I’m innocent. And for those responsible for my murder here tonight, you know who you are, well, I got some words for you too, but I put those in a letter, something for you to look forward to tomorrow.”
A Flawed Trial
While much of the town celebrate Garrett’s death, many people still believe his innocence. There were many flaws with the trial including missing evidence, untested evidence, and what seemed to be an over zealous local government determined to convict.
There was also the murder of another woman near the convent in 1981. Police suspected the two murders were done by the same man. Years later the DNA from the other crime was tested and matched another convict, Leoncio Perez Rueda not Garrett. That man’s hair was a match to the sample found and the both crime scenes. He in-turn blamed the murders on his friend but he signed a confession for the other crime. The samples that could confirm Garrett’s guilt or clear him is still sitting in storage.
10 years after his execution the Supreme Court outlawed executions of the mentally handicapped and people who committed their crimes under the age of 18. Garrett’s age and IQ both would have prevented him from being executed.
I have been charged, convicted, sentenced, and more than punished, for rape and murder. A lot of bad stuff has been said about me that if given the chance, I could have proven, not only beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond any doubt, of my innocence. You, society, did not give me a chance to do so.”
Frank Johnny Garrett left a letter cursing society and those who he felt were guilty for his murder. And the curse seems to be very real.
Only months after Garrett’s conviction his curse seemed to kick-in. The first victim was the coroner who was convicted of falsifying documents. While incarcerated, his wife died of Pancreatic cancer. That year Garrett’s attorney Bill Kolious also died of Pancreatic cancer. Kathy Jones, the NBC reporter that chased Garrett’s mother into the court house bathroom died in a plane crash. The judge and another lawyer were diagnosed with the same rare type of Leukemia. Two officers that were part of the task force also were diagnosed with Leukemia. One juror, Novella Summner, fell down a flight of stairs and died. Another juror’s daughter had a freak accident with a gun and was shot in the head and his sister run over by a car. The jailhouse snitch who testified against Garrett committed suicide. His school teacher who testified against him also committed suicide. The district attorney, Danny Hill, became an alcoholic and drug addict, then in 1995 committed suicide. Hill’s youngest daughter followed her father’s example and committed suicide by hanging.
The question of Frank Johnny Garrett’s innocence remains a hot topic in Amarillo, Texas. His friends and family still hope to clear his name.
On March 7th, the semi-fictional film from director Simon Rumley, ‘Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word’, will arrive on VOD.