LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) — Condemned Texas inmate Raphael Holiday insists he has no idea how a log cabin in the woods north of Houston caught fire, trapping and killing his toddler daughter and her two young half-sisters 15 years ago.
“I loved my kids,” Holiday, 36, said recently from a visiting cage outside Texas’ death row. “I never would do harm to any of them.”
A jury found him responsible for the fatal blaze, however, and Holiday is set for lethal injection Wednesday evening in Huntsville for the children’s September 2000 deaths.
He would be the 13th prisoner executed this year in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state, and 26th convicted killer executed nationally this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June refused to review Holiday’s case and no additional appeals were planned because of “the reality that his legal options are exhausted,” according Seth Kretzer, one of Holiday’s court-approved attorneys.
Holiday refused to accept that explanation, contended he’d been abandoned by his lawyers and complained to a federal judge in Houston, but his handwritten requests were denied.
Another lawyer, Gretchen Sween, stepped in to try to get the execution stopped so new attorneys could be appointed to pursue appeals. Those efforts failed in lower federal courts and Sween, affiliated with the Texas Resource Center, a legal organization that represents some Texas death row prisoners, took her arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. There was no immediate ruling from the justices.
Kretzer described Sween’s intervention as “frivolous.” State attorneys have argued she has no legal authority in Holiday’s case because he already has court-approved lawyers.
Evidence and testimony showed Holiday, irate over a protective order obtained by his estranged common-law wife, forced the girls’ grandmother at gunpoint to douse the interior of the Madison County home with gasoline. After it ignited, he sped away in the grandmother’s car, hit a police car that had arrived outside the cabin about 100 miles north of Houston and then led officers on a chase that ended two counties away when he wrecked.
“I was at the house, the house blew up,” he said recently from prison. “I don’t know how the fire started.”
At his trial, defense attorneys suggested an electrical problem or a pilot light started the blaze in the early hours of Sept. 6, 2000, killing Holiday’s 18-month-old daughter, Justice, and his stepdaughters, Tierra Lynch, 7, and Jasmine DuPaul, 5.
Evidence showed the girls’ mother sought the protective order against Holiday after he was arrested for sexually assaulting one of the girls. Holiday contended he knew nothing about the assault.
“He wanted his family back together,” Frank Blazek, one of Holiday’s trial lawyers, recalled last week. “In some unusual state of mind, out of desperation, he thought this was the way to go about it, by threatening them.”
The girls’ grandmother told jurors she watched Holiday bend down and then the flames erupted, court records show.
Blazek said evidence wasn’t conclusive that Holiday started the fire.
“It was a tough case,” he said. “Three little children. They didn’t deserve to die.”
Prison officials said the girls’ mother planned to witness Holiday’s execution. She declined to speak with reporters.
Holiday said from prison that he was outside when the fire broke out.
“I was panicking,” he said, explaining why he sped off in a stolen car. “I think it was crazy for someone to say I spoke of harming my kids. That doesn’t make sense.”