Texas executes man for corrections officer’s death

By Michael Graczyk
Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE — A Texas inmate was executed Tuesday evening for the death of a corrections officer during a short-lived escape from prison six years ago.

Jerry Martin, 43, had requested that no additional appeals be filed on his behalf, clearing the way for his lethal injection.

From the death chamber gurney, Martin told relatives of the slain corrections officer that he was sorry. “I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” he said.

“I hope this gives you closure. I did not murder your loved one. It was an accident. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it happened. I take full responsibility.”

Martin was serving a 50-year sentence for attempted capital murder when he and another inmate, John Falk Jr., broke away from a work detail outside a Huntsville-area prison on Sept. 24, 2007. In the ensuing chaos and gunfire, a 59-year-old prison officer on horseback, Susan Canfield, suffered fatal head injuries. Martin and Falk sped away in a stolen pickup truck but were quickly captured.

Canfield’s husband and daughter were among the people watching Tuesday through a window in the death chamber.

Martin told his own friends and a brother, watching through another window, that he loved them. “You know I’m at peace. God is the ultimate judge. He knows what happened.”

He took a deep breath, then snored as the drug took effect. He was pronounced dead 11 minutes later at 6:27 p.m. CST.

More than 200 corrections officers stood outside the prison in formation as the execution was taking place. Next to them was a riderless horse. A large photo of Canfield was displayed at the steps leading to the prison front door.

“This is a great day and justice has been done,” Canfield’s husband, Charles, a retired Houston police officer, said after watching Martin die. “I heard what he said. I accept what he said. Do I give it any credibility? No, sir, I don’t.

“The fact is he was escaping. … I don’t care if you intend it or not. You committed the act and, in this state, thank God we live in one where capital murder exists and where that punishment exists.”

Martin’s execution was the 16th and last scheduled for this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state.

“There really isn’t much I can say,” one of Martin’s attorneys, David Schulman, said last week. “He doesn’t want us to do anything and he’s made that clear.

“He is not crazy. This is not some delusional thing.”

The day of the break, Martin and Falk were among about 75 inmates working in a vegetable patch outside the Wynne Unit prison at the northern edge of Huntsville, just a few miles from the death chamber at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit.

Authorities said the getaway began when Martin used the ruse of a broken watch to get close to an officer and snatch a weapon. He tossed it to Falk and ran to steal the truck, hit Canfield and sped off as shots were being fired. Her head struck the truck, killing her.

The prisoners abandoned the pickup about a mile away and carjacked a woman at a bank drive-thru. Huntsville police pursuing them shot out a tire in that car and the inmates fled on foot.

Falk, a convicted murderer with a life term, was apprehended within an hour. Martin was caught a few hours later, hiding in a tree.