HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- An inmate who murdered a
sleeping man during a burglary apologized to his
victim's family and sang a hymn before he was
executed Tuesday evening.
Joseph Ries expressed love to friends who
watched through a death chamber window and urged
them to stay strong because "Jesus is coming back
Looking toward another window, he told two
daughters of his victim he was "really sorry for
what I've done." Ries said he prayed that they
would find peace through God.
As the lethal drugs began flowing, he started
to sing a hymn. "Our God is an awesome God," he
sang. "Lord I lift your name on high." He then
slipped into unconsciousness and was pronounced
dead seven minutes later at 6:17 p.m. CDT.
Ries, 29, was executed for fatally shooting
Robert Ratliff after breaking into the
64-year-old's rural Hopkins County home in
Ries was the 12th prisoner executed this year
in the nation's most active death penalty state
and the first of two scheduled to die this week.
Two were executed last week and two more are set
to die next week.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals by
Ries' lawyer, James Terry Jr., who wanted the
court to halt the punishment and examine the
Terry contended that Ries' rights were violated
because his earlier appeals were handled by an
incompetent attorney. He also argued that Ries'
trial lawyer failed to adequately show jurors how
Ries was raised by a drug-addicted and alcoholic
mother whose parental rights twice were revoked,
and how Ries was abused in some of the dozen
foster homes where lived.
"We've got a system that's broken and at every
level it's been broken for him," Terry said. He
acknowledged the crime was horrible but contended
Ries' life had been "shaped by the failures of
those whose legal and moral duty was to help
Ries had lived at Ratliff's home in Cumby,
about 65 miles northeast of Dallas, but Ratliff
kicked him out after he suspected Ries of stealing
Ries had stolen Ratliff's pickup, then came
back with a friend, Christopher Lee White, to
steal the man's Lincoln Continental instead
because the truck got poor gas mileage. Ratliff
wasn't home at the time, but they waited until he
came home and went to sleep, then killed him.
"Why Mr. Ries decided to stop and murder him,
it's beyond me," said Martin Braddy, the Hopkins
County district attorney who prosecuted Ries.
"That's something only he can understand. He had
the keys and he was leaving the house when they
killed him. It just seemed so cold and callous and
Ries was arrested in Oklahoma. Prosecutors said
he was the triggerman, and a jury deliberated
seven minutes before convicting him. White was
tried separately and received life in prison.
Ries said he was high when the shooting
occurred, and later when he made a videotaped
confession to police.
"I'm not sure exactly what happened," he said
recently in an interview outside death row.
The prospect of death was frightening "in a
way," Ries said, but added that he'd accepted
Christ into his life and was prepared for it.
"Life is just a bridge," he said.
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