Betty Lou Beets (March 12, 1937 – February 24, 2000) was a murderer executed in the U.S. state of Texas. She was convicted of shooting her fifth husband, Jimmy Don Beets, on August 6, 1983.
Born Betty Lou Dunevant to Margaret Louise Smithwick (April 20, 1917 – June 16, 1993) and James Garland Dunevant (September 15, 1912 – February 14, 2003), Beets was hearing-impaired due to a childhood bout with measles and claimed she was sexually abused by her father.
When Beets was a child the family moved from North Carolina to Hampton, Virginia where her father was employed as a machinist at the Langley Research Center. Her mother was institutionalized when she was 12-years-old, leaving her to take care of her younger sister and brother.
Beets married her first husband Robert Franklin Branson at age 15, and according to her supporters, all of her marriages were plagued with sexual abuse and domestic violence. Beets' claims of domestic violence and sexual abuse occurred well after her conviction and sentence of death.
Beets had a criminal history prior to her arrest for murder, including public lewdness, and shooting a former husband in the side of the stomach. Married six times, twice to the same man, Beets shot her second husband, Billy York Lane, twice in the back of the head in 1970 and tried to run over her third husband, Ronnie C. Threlkold, with her car in 1978. Both men survived and testified at her trial.
On August 6, 1983, Beets reported her husband missing from their home near Cedar Creek Lake in Henderson County, Texas. Her son, Robert Branson, would later testify that Beets had said that she intended to kill her husband and told her son to leave the house. On returning to the house two hours later, he found Jimmy Don Beets dead with two gunshot wounds. He helped his mother conceal the body in the front yard of the house, after which Beets telephoned the police.
According to her son, Beets put some of Jimmy Don's heart medication in his fishing boat the next day. Branson and Beets then abandoned the boat in the lake. It was found on August 12, 1983, washed ashore near the Redwood Beach Marina. Believing that he had had fallen overboard and drowned, the police spent three weeks dragging the lake, looking for Jimmy Don's body.
In 1985, information was received by the Henderson County Sheriff that led to enough evidence to arrest Beets for the murder on June 8. A search warrant was issued and a search of Beets' home found the remains of Jimmy Don in a filled-in wishing well. Also found buried in a garage were the remains of Doyle Wayne Barker, another former husband of Beets. Both had been shot with a .38 caliber pistol. She was never tried for Barker's murder. Jimmy Don Beets was her fifth husband. She was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Trial and procedural history
Her trial for the murder for remuneration and the promise of remuneration of Jimmy Don Beets began on July 11, 1985 in the 173rd District Court of Henderson County. She pleaded not guilty and claimed that two of her children had committed the murders. She was found guilty on October 11. The evidence of abuse was never presented to the court. During the separate penalty phase three days later, she was sentenced to death. Beets was Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Death Row # 810. She was received by the Texas Department of Corrections on October 14, 1985. She was incarcerated in the Mountain View Unit.
An automatic appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals first overturned the conviction, saying that insurance and pension benefits were not the same as remuneration. The State requested a rehearing on September 21, 1988 and this time the Court ruled the conviction and sentence should stand. Ten years of appeals followed. The Supreme Court of the United States denied a writ of certiorari on June 26, 1989, and an execution date was set for November 8. On November 1, she received a stay from the trial court after she filed a state habeas petition. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied this request on June 27, 1990, leading to a second execution date of December 6.
A federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed three days before her scheduled execution and the federal district court granted a stay of execution on December 4. Throughout the first half of 1991, evidentiary hearings were held and on May 9 the court granted relief on one of Beets's claims, but denied all others. The United States Court of Appeals upheld the decision on March 18, 1993, but also overturned the one claim that had been granted relief. The case was sent to a federal district court and on September 2, 1998, it denied her habeas corpus relief. After her appeals were denied throughout 1999, an execution date was set for February 24, 2000.
She was executed by lethal injection at 6:18 p.m. CST on February 24, 2000 in the Huntsville Unit. She did not request a final meal, nor did she make a final statement. She was the second woman executed in the state after the reintroduction of the death penalty. At the time of the execution, she was 62 years old, and had five children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.