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Burden of Proof

Will Betty Lou Beets Be Executed By Lethal Injection?

Aired February 23, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



BETTY LOU BEETS, TEXAS DEATH ROW INMATE: My husband, Jimmy Don, he ended up there because I was afraid to tell anyone what had happened and I didn't know what to do with him, and I was just afraid.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My job is to uphold the laws of my state. And we ask two questions in Texas: Did you do the crime? Are you guilty of the crime committed and were you given full access to the courts of law?

BEETS: I haven't lost hope. I can't lose hope.


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: Will Betty Lou Beets be executed by lethal injection? The state of Texas prepares to execute its second woman since the Civil War.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

Tomorrow in a Huntsville, Texas penitentiary, 62-year-old Betty Lou Beets is scheduled to die by lethal injection. She was convicted of shooting her fifth husband in the back and then burying his body in the yard.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: The Texas Pardons Board rejected a request to halt the execution of beets. The death row inmate, also accused of killing her fourth husband, says she had ineffective representation at her capital murder trial.


BEETS: Here we were in the middle of a trial and he hadn't investigated anything. He didn't subpoena not one witness for me -- none. I asked him, didn't he need the names of people who know me so that he could have some character witness, somebody that could say something about me and how I really am? And he said we wouldn't need anybody unless I was convicted. And I couldn't understand that. There was no penalty phase to my trial whatever. The state called nobody and he didn't either, and I didn't know it was supposed to be. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: And joining us today from Austin, Texas is Joe Margulies, attorney for Betty Lou Beets. Also in Austin, Rusty Hubbarth of Justice For All. In New York, John Blume, also an attorney for Betty Lou Beets.

Here in Washington, Barbara Zimmerman (ph), criminal defense attorney and Professor Michael Tigar, and Brad Fuhrman (ph). In the back row, Sarah Toppins (ph) and Mandy Folkedahl (ph).

Joe, let me go first to you. What are the facts giving rise to this capital case?

JOE MARGULIES, ATTORNEY FOR BETTY LOU BEETS: Well, that's where you immediately run into problems because there aren't any. There's just no question but there -- you struggle and find a dearth of evidence that suggests that this is a capital case. And even if you believe that the state proved that Betty killed Jimmy Don Beets, they had to prove motive. Murder for remuneration is an unusual statute in Texas and it makes motive an element that they've got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let me just back you up for a second. What does the prosecution claim were the facts of this murder? I know it's not your position, but the prosecutors in your -- what do the prosecutors say happened?

MARGULIES: Well, the prosecutors say Betty killed Jimmy Don and did it for pension, insurance benefits, trailer.

VAN SUSTEREN: How'd she do it?

MARGULIES: He was shot in the back of the head.

COSSACK: John, what evidence was put forward to the jury that they could conclude, which they did, that this was a shooting for remuneration?

JOHN BLUME, ATTORNEY FOR BETTY LOU BEETS: Basically, they relied primarily, in fact, almost exclusively, upon the fact that Mr. Beets was a retired Dallas fireman, that several years after his disappearance, Ms. Beets tried to have him declared dead and then tried to gain access to the benefits.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, let's go back a little bit in this case. The body was found buried in the backyard.


VAN SUSTEREN: But there was some sort of ruse that was -- at least the prosecution thought, that something else had happened to him. What had originally been the story of what happened to this man?

TIGAR: Well, he had, I understand, disappeared and people had been unable to find him. And there was a story that Betty Lou Beets' son helped her make it look like he had fallen out of his boat, which was on a lake, and disappeared.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how soon after, Mike, he disappeared did they determine that there was a murder?

TIGAR: You know, that -- I don't know that information. Probably Joe Margulies knows.

BLUME: Two years.

MARGULIES: Probably less than two years, Mike.

TIGAR: Something like two years. I think that's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did they find out that a body was buried in the backyard?

MARGULIES: Well, the information we have is they acted on an anonymous tip. They started digging up the yard and they found the remains of Jimmy Don. What's interesting is that that was right about the time that Jimmy Don had identified the existence of these benefits and had the check mailed to him from the city of Dallas. She's then indicted for the murder of Jimmy Don Beets for the purpose of receiving the benefits that she doesn't know exist. He's the one who finds out about their existence, he's the one that secures their release from the city of Dallas to him, and she supposedly kills this man to get these benefits that she didn't know were in existence.

COSSACK: But, Joe, it's more than that. Apparently her only witness to the fact that she -- or to her story that she didn't know these benefits existed was her lawyer.

MARGULIES: That's right.

COSSACK: And so tell us about that?

MARGULIES: Well, that's the core of the claim. That's the core of the problem regarding counsel's performance in this case. What we know is that about 17 months after Jimmy Don died, Betty's trailer burns down in an unrelated circumstance. She goes to E. Ray Andrews, her lawyer, seeking help with the fire insurance claim, and E. Ray says, you're the woman whose husband disappeared a while ago. Let me work on the fire insurance claim, but let me also work on seeing if he had any benefits, because I know he worked for the city of Dallas, and they often have pensions, or maybe there's some life insurance. Let me see what's out there, and I'll just handle the whole thing on a contingent fee for you. And he has provided a sworn affidavit, and he also testified to this effect in federal court in front of Chief Judge Parker, in which he has made it absolutely clear that, at time Betty came to him, she had one concern and one concern only, and that was for the fire insurance claim and knew nothing about these benefits.

COSSACK: All right, let me interrupt you for just one second.

We now go to CNN's Frank Sesno here in Washington. (INTERRUPTED BY COVERAGE OF A LIVE EVENT)

COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to

We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.


BEETS: And he drug me back into the kitchen, and poured water over my head, because I couldn't answer him. And he cussed me, and kicked me again, and then he walked out. And I never saw him anymore. I never saw him anymore.

QUESTION: How did he end up in your yard?

BEETS: I don't know. I don't know. I didn't know he was dead, not until they found him. And I surely didn't know he was there.


VAN SUSTEREN: In an interview last week with a Houston television reporter, death row inmate Betty Lou Beets discussed the discovery of her fourth husband, found under a shed on her property. Tomorrow, Beets is scheduled to become the second woman to be executed by the state of Texas since the Civil War.

Recently on CNN, Republican governor and presidential candidate George Bush was asked about the Beets case and the Texas death row.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN LATE EDITION: You're familiar with the scheduled execution of Betty Lou Beets. She's scheduled for lethal injection on February 24, which would be next Thursday. She would be only the second woman executed in Texas since the Civil War. Are you reviewing that case right now? As you know, Texas Catholic bishops are asking you to stop all of the executions, at least for the time being.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf, my job is to uphold the laws of my state. And we ask two questions in Texas: Did you do the crime? Are you guilty of the crime committed? And were you given full access to the courts of law?



BUSH: There is no doubt in my mind that each person who has been executed in our state was guilty of the crime committed.


VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, the governor says that his job is to uphold the laws of the state. If Betty Lou Beets committed this murder, but didn't do it for money, is she -- Should she, under the laws of Texas, be executed?

TIGAR: Absolutely not. In Texas, there's two phases, as there are in every state that has the death penalty. You are guilty of the crime, and then a separate proceeding to determine if an aggravating circumstance exists that justifies the sentence of death. Now here, the aggravating circumstance, the only one on which they rely, is for remuneration.

And the tragedy of this, and I mean I'd like George Bush to listen to this, explaining due process to George W. Bush is like explaining a sun dial to a bat, but let me try. Here she had a lawyer who was the only person in the world who could come forward and be a witness that said: Look, she didn't know about the insurance policy. This same lawyer, in lieu of a fee, took the literary rights, which are worth a lot more if she is on death row than if she is not, and had them assigned to his son.

So, right away, he has a financial conflict, and then he puts himself out of being the one person in the world who could come forward and be a witness, because you can't be a lawyer and a witness. That fundamental unfairness denied Betty Lou Beets the full and fair access to talk to the jury.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is what the governor also says is: Did you do it and did you have full and fair access as the second part?

TIGAR: Exactly right. And anybody understands that if your lawyer is operating under a disabling conflict of interest, if your lawyer has sold you out for the book rights, or if your lawyer is disqualified from being the one witness that can spare your life, that's not full and fair access to the opportunity to talk to the jury.

COSSACK: Rusty, Professor Tigar makes a compelling argument, but several courts of appeal have heard this heard this argument, and all have denied Betty Lou Beets' position, why?

WILLIAM "RUSTY" HUBBARTH, JUSTICE FOR ALL: Well, due process. Another factor that Professor Tigar conveniently fails to mention is that the first claims of domestic violence, which seems to be another issue in this case, or in the appeal process at this point in time was never raised until the Texas Resource Center....

VAN SUSTEREN: Wait, let me just stop one second, Rusty, let me interrupt you for one second, did she do this for money? Because that is what the statute...


VAN SUSTEREN: Where is the money -- where is the evidence she did this for money? I am not saying she didn't do this, but did she do it for money?

HUBBARTH: Where is the evidence? It was in front of the jury at that point in time.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was it?

HUBBARTH: And when they convicted her, and the convictions were upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, they're the fact finders. I am not a fact finder, I wasn't sitting on the jury.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was the evidence? What specifically was the evidence she did this for money that the jury heard?

HUBBARTH: I would say specifically I would defer to Mr. Margulies on that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. Margulies, what was the evidence of money that she got -- that she is looking for in this murder?

MARGULIES: I'm sorry. I apologize. That's the problem there wasn't any.

COSSACK: Wait, wait...

MARGULIES: What there was is the evidence of what comes to a spouse after the death of any partner. And so there are things that come to her.

BLUME: There was evidence, it was tainted, that's the problem with it. The core evidence against her was supposedly that she did this to get the insurance benefits. And as Professor Tigar said, what the jury didn't know is that was absolutely false. That E. Ray Andrews was the only person in the world who knew that when she came to him, she had absolutely no idea in the world that these benefits existed, and that is why...

HUBBARTH: These all sound like wonderful appellate points, but they weren't addressed at the appellate level.

COSSACK: But Rusty, isn't the argument really here, and in terms of what the evidence -- isn't the problem here, which apparently is uncontradicted, that the lawyer was in a conflict position with Betty Lou Beets, and therefore, by definition, there is a problem here?

HUBBARTH: Well, the problem would be with, as I was taught by some very good professors, in the lack of due process. And that is addressed in the appellate and habeas avenues. She's had those avenues, she has exercised those avenues, she's requested clemency in part based upon this, and each time her conviction by a Texas jury of her peers has been upheld.

VAN SUSTEREN: Rusty, there's a serious problem, Rusty, in that the statute is quite plain. It says she has to do it for money, remuneration. Her lawyer had the information that she discovered after the murder two years later there was a policy.

COSSACK: The problem is -- I can see where the problem is, you got to tell a jury that's what happens.

VAN SUSTEREN: And it never happened. So it happened.

MARGULIES: The jury doesn't hear the evidence. That's the problem. The jury...



MARGULIES: The lawyer has structured his fee that he only gets paid this extraordinary lucrative, not just the literary rights that Mike mentioned, but the entire media rights that he drafts, he only gets paid if he continues to represent her through the trial.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joe, what happened to that lawyer?

MARGULIES: What's that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Whatever happened to that lawyer?

MARGULIES: He's since been disbarred. What we know is that riding the wave of publicity after this case, he is elected the local district attorney in that same jurisdiction. After that, he's indicted by the federal government for soliciting a bribe in another capital case, offering to fix a capital case as D.A. in exchange for $300,000. He is indicted and he pleads guilty, and he serves as a guest of the federal government.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, is this due process?

TIGAR: Of course, it's not due process, and the fact is that the United States Court of Appeals' interpretation of the conflict of interest standard of lawyers in this case has been repudiated by the only other court of appeals to consider it, and has never been passed upon by the United States Supreme Court. It's a way out theory that's been used to justify this execution by a very conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which I think certainly justifies the Supreme Court getting into it, but leaves you at the end of the day saying: Why kill this woman? With all those substantial doubts that remain, when the only argument under which Mr. Hubbarth can hang his hat is, well, the courts upheld it, and he can't come up with a single justification.

COSSACK: Rusty, let's let you respond. Go ahead, Rusty.

HUBBARTH: Well, professor, no one in this world has more respect for your legal abilities than I do. But due process is the key to American society. She has exercised it. She has had every opportunity since 1985, that has been 15 years on death row, to exercise it, to bring these claims of ineffective assistance. And it can go much higher than the Fifth Circuit. If the Fifth Circuit rejects it, the next stop is Washington. We both know that.

If Washington rejects it, she's going to be executed. The only other recourse was clemency, clemency was rejected yesterday and a majority vote, a reprieve was rejected yesterday in a majority vote in the state of Texas.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mike, let me ask you about that. Does the board rejected the clemency that is a board appointed by Governor Bush, is it not, the clemency board?

TIGAR: Largely, largely, but he still has the power to stop this thing for 30 days.

VAN SUSTEREN: But only for 30 days. So that really wouldn't do her much -- The governor really can't do her much good, anyway.

TIGAR: Certainly, because she could then assemble and present the evidence of spousal abuse.

HUBBARTH: Which she's had 15 years to do.

MARGULIES: The important thing is that people in Illinois who were spared, who caused the governor to stop executions, people proven innocent, they too had exhausted their appeals, and were only awaiting their death.

VAN SUSTEREN: And that's all the time, and unfortunately that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": The race to the White House heats up, with Senator John McCain snipping at the heals of Texas Governor George W. Bush. That's today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

COSSACK: And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of "BURDEN OF PROOF." We'll see you then.


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