Texas Death Row Penpal Request:
(This is the original penpal request Dennis sent to the CCADP before an execution date was set. )
My name is Dennis and I have been incarcerated since my birthday on June 20, 1990. I do not have any penpals and would like to start writing to a few people who are truly interested in a close relationship on paper.
Although I am where I am, I am an honest straightforward person with needs just like anyone else and the main need like most is companionship. I have a sister who has stuck by me through the entire ordeal of my trial and incarceration and is now having many problems of her own, including not being able to walk, and can no longer come to visit. I really don't want to burden her any longer and try to make things easier on her by not telling her many of my problems. Truth is, I need a friend and someone to talk to and share with. However, I am one who likes to listen more than talk and need someone who would share their life and be honest with me.
I would really enjoy a family who would let me live the rest of my life with them.
I love kids and enjoy answering their questions and trying to help them. If there is anyone who would be interested in writing and sharing with me, please don't hesitate to write and we can take it slow and easy and get to know each other. Thank you.
Dennis T. Dowthitt
Terrell Unit D.R
12002 FM 350 South
DENNIS DOWTHITT executed March 7, 2001
Sobbing and seeking repentance,
a former used car salesman accused of
being a sadistic rapist was executed today for sexually abusing and
killing a Montgomery County teen almost 11 years ago.
"I'm sorry for what you
had to go through. I am so sorry what you all had
to go through," Dennis Dowthitt, 55, said twice. "I can't imagine losing
2 children. If I was you all I would've killed me. I am really sorry
about. I really am."
His voice was choked with
emotion. Holding back tears, he looked at
members of his victim's family and had difficulty speaking, then added,
"Gracie was beautiful and Tiffany was beautiful. You had some lovely
girls and I am sorry. I don't know what to say."
Dowthitt was condemned
for raping and fatally slashing and stabbing Grace
Purnhagen, 16, in an attack where the girl's 9-year-old sister, Tiffany,
also was strangled.
His voice shaking and
his body quivering against the leather restraints,
Dowthitt turned away from witnesses as the injection began and then fell
Among the witnesses, his
sister sobbed uncontrollably and a friend
watching knelt on the floor. He was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. CST, 7
minutes after the lethal dose began.
Dowthitt's son, Delton,
16 at the time of the 1990 murders, testified
against his father and under a plea bargain accepted a 45-year prison
term for Tiffany Purnhagen's death. He remains imprisoned, with an
additional term for escape in 1995, but becomes eligible for parole late
On Tuesday, Dowthitt lost
an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. The
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, voting 18-0, refused his clemency
His attorneys again went
to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, asking the
justices to review the case even as the inmate requested a final meal.
Less than 90 minutes before his scheduled punishment, however, the high
court denied a request for a reprieve and refused to reconsider the case.
"I'm frustrated the system
takes so long," Linda Purnhagen, whose
daughters were killed, said. "The kids got no appeal. He was their judge,
jury and executioner."
Grace Purnhagen and Delton
Dowthitt had been acquaintances. With her
younger sister in tow at a bowling alley the evening of June 13, 1990,
Grace accepted a ride from the Dowthitts and wound up in a wooded area in
south Montgomery County not far from their home in Oak Ridge North.
Court documents showed
while Grace and Delton Dowthitt talked nearby,
Dennis Dowthitt tried to molest the younger girl, who resisted and ran
screaming to her sister.
Delton Dowthitt testified
that when his father told him the girls had to
be killed, Delton strangled Tiffany with a rope. Dennis Dowthitt attacked
Grace, first unsuccessfully trying to rape her, then cutting her throat
and raping her with a beer bottle before stabbing her in the chest.
The decomposing bodies
of both girls were found 3 days later. Witnesses
told of last seeing the girls outside the bowling alley talking with the
Dowthitts in a pickup truck.
A psychologist testified
the elder Dowthitt, while impotent, was a
sadistic rapist who received pleasure by using objects like bottles to
cause pain through sex. At the punishment phase of his trial, 2 of his
daughters testified how they were assaulted or molested by their father.
"If we're going to have
the death penalty in Texas, then if it doesn't
fit this case, it doesn't fit -- ever," said Barbara Hale, a former
Montgomery County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Dowthitt.
Dowthitt, who declined
to speak with reporters in the weeks leading up to
his execution, acknowledged to police he was at the murder site but
blamed the deaths on his son.
"They didn't have the
information they needed, that's all," he said while
being led from the courtroom after a jury in 1992 decided he should be
put to death. "I'm not guilty."
Linda Purnhagen noted
her younger daughter now has been dead longer than
she lived and that Dowthitt remained alive over the years.
"I don't think that's right," she said.
Dowthitt was among at
least 10 condemned Texas prisoners with execution
dates over the next several months. Next on the lethal needle list is
Michael Moore, 37, set to die March 28 for the 1994 murder of a Copperas
Cove woman during a burglary at her home.
Dowthitt becomes the 5th
condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas and the 244th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982.
Dowthitt becomes the 17th
condemned inmate to be put to death this year
in the USA and the 700th overall since America resumed executions on
January 17, 1977.
Press & Rick Halperin)
U R G E N T A C T I O N A P P E A L
21 February 2001 - EXTRA 15/01 Death penalty / Legal concern
USA (Texas): Dennis Thurl
Dowthitt, white, aged 55
Dennis Dowthitt is scheduled to be executed
in Texas on 7 March
2001. He was sentenced to death in 1992 for the murder of Gracie
The bodies of 16-year-old Gracie Purnhagen
and her nine-year-old
sister Tiffany Purnhagen were found on 16 June 1990 near a pipeline
in Montgomery County. The younger girl had been strangled. Her
older sister had been sexually assaulted, and her throat had been
cut. Dennis Dowthitt's 16-year-old son, Delton Dowthitt, who was
dating Gracie Purnhagen at the time, confessed to police that he had
killed both girls. He subsequently entered into a plea bargain,
pleading guilty to the murder of Tiffany Purnhagen in exchange for a
45-year prison sentence and testimony against his father for the
sexual assault and killing of Gracie Purnhagen.
Although Dennis Dowthitt admits giving
his son a lift to the place
where the girls were murdered, he has steadfastly maintained that he
was not present at the actual crime, and that it was his son who killed
both girls. Amnesty International is not in a position to assess his guilt
or innocence, and opposes his execution in any event. However, the
organization is concerned by evidence that would either appear to
support Dennis Dowthitt's version of events, or call into question his
son's trial testimony. For example, Delton Dowthitt has apparently told
others, both before and after his father's trial, that he, Delton, killed
both girls. A police report, which the jury did not see, reportedly
indicates that Delton Dowthitt had previously raped a girl in the same
place where the murders occurred. In addition, Dennis Dowthitt's
current lawyers have raised serious questions about the reliability of
the forensic test results used by the state to implicate him in the
Dennis Dowthitt, who is now deaf, has
suffered from mental illness
since he was a teenager. His original trial lawyers did not investigate
this issue, or the abuse he suffered as a child, to present in
mitigation. One of several mental health experts, who have assessed
Dowthitt since his conviction, concluded that his profile was
'consistent with paranoid and schizophrenic features'. A second
expert has stated that the tapes of Dennis Dowthitt's interrogation
showed his 'severe mental problems'. She also said that he 'functions
quite peacefully and successfully within the prison environment',
undermining the jury's finding of his likely future dangerousness, a
prerequisite for the death sentence in Texas. Dennis Dowthitt is
reported to have been a model prisoner for the nine years he has
been on death row. His only disciplinary write-up was for having hung
a sheet in front of the toilet in his cell on 11 November 1997.
Dennis Dowthitt's current appeal lawyers
continue to investigate
aspects of this case, including questions surrounding the physical
evidence relied upon by the state at the trial. In the event that the
Board of Pardons and Paroles does not recommend clemency, they
will ask the Governor of Texas to issue a 60-day reprieve to allow
them to continue their investigations.
Since the USA resumed judicial killing
in 1977, 697 prisoners have
been put to death. Texas accounts for 243 (35%) of these executions,
and has regularly breached international standards, including by
using the death penalty against children, the mentally impaired,
foreign nationals denied their consular rights, defendants whose
representation was inadequate, and those whose guilt remained in
doubt right up to their execution. There have been four executions in
Texas since Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry was sworn in as
governor on 21 December 2000 after George W Bush, the former
Texas Governor, won the US Presidency. There were 152 executions
in Texas during Governor Bush's five-year term in office.
The widely held belief that the execution
of the mentally impaired
flouts basic standards of justice and decency is reflected in a
resolution adopted in April 2000 by the UN Commission on Human
Rights, urging all retentionist countries 'not to impose the death
penalty on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder or to
execute any such person'. The UN Safeguards Guaranteeing
Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty states
that: 'Capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the
person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving
no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.' International
standards also require that a person facing the death penalty be
provided with 'adequate assistance of counsel at every stage of the
proceedings, above and beyond the protection afforded in non-capital
cases' (UN Economic and Social Council, Resolution 1989/64, 24
Amnesty International opposes the death
penalty in all cases. Every
death sentence is an affront to human dignity; every execution is a
symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.
ACTION: Please send faxes/express/airmail
letters, in your own words, using the following guidelines:
- expressing sympathy for the family of Gracie and Tiffany
Purnhagen, explaining that you are not seeking to condone the
manner of their deaths;
- opposing the execution of Dennis Dowthitt;
- expressing concern that the jury who sentenced him to die never
heard evidence of his mental illness or his childhood abuse;
- noting that Dennis Dowthitt's son initially confessed to both murders
to police, a confession which he has reportedly repeated to others
since, and expressing concern at the doubts that still surround the
conviction of Dennis Dowthitt;
- to the Board: urging that the Board recommend clemency;
- to the Governor: urging him to accept a recommendation of
clemency, if the Board so votes, or to grant a 60-day reprieve, if they
do not, in order that Dennis Dowthitt's lawyers can continue their
- urging the governor to support a moratorium on executions in Texas.
Board of Pardons and Paroles
P.O. Box 13401
Austin, Texas 78711-3401
Fax: 1 512 463 8120
Salutation: Dear Board members
Honorable Rick Perry
Governor of Texas
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428
Fax: 1 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor
SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY
Dennis Thurl Dowthitt was
convicted primarily on the strength of the so-called "accomplice eyewitness
testimony" of his son, Delton, for murdering two sisters, aged 16 and 9, in a wooded area of South
Montgomery County in 1990. The older girl was also sexually assaulted with an object.
Suspicion after the murders
centered immediately upon Delton Dowthitt, Dennis' teenaged son, who
was observed with both victims shortly before their deaths. Delton fled Texas and was arrested in
Louisiana, where he gave a confession in which he admitted slaying both sisters.
In custody, Delton recanted
his confession and instead fingered his father, claiming that Dennis had
stabbed the older girl and ordered Delton to strangle the 9-year-old. Delton pled to a 45-year sentence
in exchange for testifying against his father.
Hard evidence in the case
is scant, and is consistent with both Delton's original claim to be the
killer and his subsequent implication of his father -- hardly adequate to justify a death sentence in light
of Delton's self-interested testimony. And the existing physical evidence (a knife with an unidentifiable
spot of blood, and a beer bottle with blood stains whose DNA corresponds only loosely with Dennis'
and was never tested against Delton's) was produced by Delton himself.
Moreover, considerable circumstantial
evidence corroborates Delton's retracted confession. A clinical
psychologist who examined Delton prior to the latter's trial formed the opinion that Delton had a
"propensity for violence" and "showed signs of protecting himself and covering his tracks." Asked
whether he believed Delton capable of committing both murders as he originally claimed, the
psychologist was unequivocal: "Yes. He is also capable of doing that."
The doctor, then, would likely
not have been surprised to learn that Delton once strangled one of his
girlfriends into unconsciousness for refusing to have sex with him, and that he once took her to the very
road where the bodies were discovered -- which he called "rape road" -- to sexually assault her.
Still more damningly, Delton
had bragged of the murders to several friends prior to the arrest, and
done so since his father's death sentence. He has both the sisters' names tattooed, trophy-like, upon his
body. If the state of Texas has its way, he may soon add his father's name to the list.
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