Does DaRoyce Mosley Deserve to Die?

Raised in Kilgore’s poorest black neighborhood, he was an honors graduate with a bright future—until he was convicted of killing four whites. But the case is still hotly disputed, and the question remains…Does DaRoyce Mosley Deserve to Die?

February 1996By Comments

IN THE EAST TEXAS TOWN OF KILGORE, KATIE’S WAS JUST ANOTHER beer joint perched next to Texas Highway 135. Inside, there were a few tables the size of hubcaps, a small pool table, a jukebox, and some Dallas Cowboys posters tacked to the plywood walls. The customers were white working-class people. Most of the men who stopped in for the $1 bottled beer were oil-field workers still trying to make a living from the dregs of what was once the largest oil field in the world. They arrived in unwashed pickup trucks. They wore shirts that had their first names sewn above their pockets. Their wives or girlfriends often came along, sitting at separate tables, smoking cigarettes and calling each other “honey.” The owner, a rusty-voiced woman named Katie Moore who had been operating East Texas honky-tonks for more than thirty years, liked to call Katie’s a “quiet little family place.” But on the night of July 21, 1994, Sandra Cash, the 32-year-old barmaid who was paid $30 a night to serve the beer, crawled to the phone and made a 911 call. “Please help me,” she rasped. “I am choking.”

A young Kilgore police officer, one of the first to arrive at Katie’s, was so horrified by what he saw that for months afterward he needed counseling. Behind the bar, Cash was barely alive, her spinal cord severed by as many as six shots that had been fired into her. The four customers who had been at Katie’s that night were crumpled on the floor, each one shot in the head. Patricia Colter, a 54-year-old Wal-Mart employee, and her 44-year-old husband, Duane, who worked at a Kilgore company that built ceramic toilet fixtures, were closest to the front door, face down, blood from their heads seeping into the carpet. Alvin “Buddy” Waller, a 54-year-old oil-well worker, was lying a few feet away with a pool cue in his hand. He had been shot once in the leg, once in the back of the head, and once through the left eye. Because of the gunpowder on his face, investigators knew that the killer had stuck the gun right up to Waller’s eye and pulled the trigger. Luva Congleton, a 68-year-old retiree, had crawled under the pool table to hide. The killer had walked to the pool table, leaned down, and shot her. The only item missing from Katie’s was a gray fishing tackle box that Cash used to keep the bar receipts. It held $308.

Throughout the night and into the next morning, officers and agents arrived from the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF); the Texas Rangers; the Department of Public Safety’s mobile crime laboratory; two sheriff’s departments; and the Kilgore Police Department. The mayor came. The local press showed up too. Describing Patricia Colter in her younger years, a reporter for the Kilgore News Herald wrote, “[She] looked like she could have gone to Hollywood and become a movie star.” Katie’s regulars stood behind the yellow police tape and told anyone who would listen that the killer or killers had to have come from Goat Hill, a poor black neighborhood just down the highway. “Crack city,” one called it. “Nigger heaven,” said another.

Two days later, the police announced they had found the killer: nineteen-year-old Goat Hill resident DaRoyce Mosley, a former honors student at Kilgore High School, member of the student council, and starter on the basketball team who had gone on to Kilgore College. Tall and smooth-skinned, with a dazzling, broad smile, DaRoyce was one of the few black teenagers whom any Kilgore resident knew by name. “He was just about the first kid to cross the racial lines in Kilgore, which is saying a lot for a town that’s still got some Old South in it,” said his friend William Linn, a former high school classmate who is white. “I mean, it’s no secret that whites and blacks here keep their distance from one another. But DaRoyce made a point of making white friends. He kept saying that he wanted to be successful and that he didn’t want to be stuck in his part of town.”

DaRoyce’s arrest—and the district attorney’s decision to seek the death penalty—was unfathomable to many Kilgore residents. This was a kid, people said over and over, who talked about becoming a doctor or a lawyer. “I’d have called him studious,” said former Kilgore mayor Bob Barbee. “ ‘Respectful’ is the word I would always use to describe him,” added Kathy McMillan, a schoolteacher whose son was one of DaRoyce’s closest friends. “He’d come over to spend the night here, and he’d always carry on an intelligent conversation with us in this very gentle voice.”

But after an all-night interrogation, DaRoyce had signed a confession in which he admitted that he had agreed to accompany his 31-year-old uncle, Ray Don Mosley, on a robbery along with Marcus Smith, a 16-year-old Goat Hill teenager with a juvenile record. DaRoyce said that although he had tried several times that night to back out of the robbery, his uncle Ray Don, one of the most feared criminals in the Goat Hill neighborhood, persuaded him to come inside the bar. “I had never done anything bad before, and I felt like doing something bad,” DaRoyce said in the confession. After they walked in, he said, Ray Don shot Sandra Cash. “The people looked at me and it scared me and I shot a lady at a table,” DaRoyce said. He then said Ray Don pointed a gun at him and ordered him to kill everyone else or be shot himself.

For the police, the case was open and shut. But plenty of Kilgore’s citizens were convinced that the confession was not the truth. DaRoyce’s friends insisted that he hated guns: When he had gone along with them on camping trips, he wouldn’t hold a gun, let alone shoot one. A psychiatrist and a psychologist who arrived sep-arately to interview Da-Royce said that nothing about his personality fit the profile of a mass murderer. It was also peculiar, they said, that DaRoyce had given a series of different stories during his all-night interrogation before finally saying that he did the killings. “I believe that, during the night he confessed, he was under intense pressure, emotionally broken down, his mind almost dissociated from reality,” said Louis-Victor Jeanty, an Austin psychiatrist who spoke to DaRoyce for several hours. “He was trying to please a group of angry police officers because that is his nature.”

After his arrest, DaRoyce told his attorneys that he had been so scared during his interrogation that he had lied to the police. The real story, he said, was that in a moment of weakness, trying to prove to a belligerent Ray Don that he was not a “punk,” he went along on the robbery but ran out the door once Ray Don started shooting. To those who knew the strapping, insolent Ray Don—once described by a lawyer as “a walking piece of dynamite”—it was absurd that the police were apparently believing his confession, in which he said that he shot Sandra Cash but then threw down his gun once DaRoyce began shooting everyone else. Did the police really think that Ray Don Mosley, the man who organized the Katie’s robbery, deliberately dropped his gun? At least five Goat Hill residents later gave sworn statements that they personally heard Ray Don claim he had murdered everyone at Katie’s. (Ray Don would not be interviewed for this article.) Charline Jackson, Ray Don’s sister and DaRoyce’s mother, said Ray Don came by her house, told her he had committed the killings, and then added that he enjoyed looking at the blood coming out of the backs of the white people’s heads.

For a death penalty case, in which the truth is supposed to be obvious, there seemed to be as many questions as answers. Indeed the case sent the town into turmoil, forcing its citizens to confront the fine line between guilt and innocence—and between justice and compassion. As one longtime teacher at the high school would later say, “After DaRoyce’s arrest, none of us here were ever the same again.”

“THIS DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT, DOES IT?” DAROYCE ASKED ME WHEN I first met him in a holding cell at the courthouse just before his trial this past October. He gave me a sympathetic smile, his liquid brown eyes blinking behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “No matter what that district attorney says, people here know I’m not some monster,” he said. “They know this isn’t right.”

About 115 miles east of Dallas, Kilgore, population 11,000, is still very much a part of the South, not the Southwest. A Confederate flag flies over the local police department, and Gregg County (where Kilgore is located) is named after a Confederate hero. Because of the town’s past—in the thirties it was a kind of Texas Eden, its land brimming with oil—some remarkably wealthy, sophisticated residents live there. But the oil patch is also home to a large number of blue-collar workers whose talk would chill even the bravest black man. Sitting one night in Katie’s, I listened to some roughnecks discussing a black employee at an oil-drilling operation. One man said to his buddy across the table, “I told that nigger boy, ‘Get your ass in the truck or I’ll put my pipe wrench around your scrawny nigger neck.’” Goat Hill residents say that when they walk past Katie’s, patrons occasionally stand in the doorway and shout, “Get on out of here, niggers!” According to Sandra Cash, Katie makes it clear to her barmaids that black people are not welcome.

Although other black neighborhoods are scattered around Kilgore, which is about 15 percent black, none is as dilapidated as Goat Hill, which is on the northwest edge of town. Many of the frame homes look like their roofs are about to buckle. Concrete blocks prop up the front porches. Few homes have air conditioning units; one has carpet stapled to the outside walls to provide insulation in the winter. A ditch runs through Goat Hill where water and oil dripping from a leaky pipeline settle for weeks at a time. It is a barren world of unwed pregnant teenage girls, aimless young men who don’t finish high school, mothers and grandmothers who, if they work, usually find jobs as domestics for the richer whites, and a few grown men who have not abandoned their families. About the only white people who set foot in Goat Hill are members of a new drug-prevention program called Turn Around Kilgore. On Saturdays the mostly prosperous white citizens march in front of the homes of suspected drug dealers and chant, “Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho, drug dealers got to go.”

Charline Mosley Jackson was only fourteen and unmarried when she gave birth to DaRoyce. She told me that she had been a teenage drug abuser. Charline had four more children. But she spent much of her time on the streets, moving from man to man, often leaving home for a couple of days. DaRoyce is not sure who his father is. When he was eight, he got a job bagging groceries in return for meat and bread to feed his younger brother and sisters. On nights when the electricity in the house was turned off because Charline hadn’t paid the bill, DaRoyce built a fire in the bathtub to keep him and the other children warm.

One evening the children heard Charline screaming in the front part of the house. Her brother, Ray Don Mosley, had come by, started an argument, then pulled out a knife and slashed Charline across her breasts. To those who knew Ray Don, the attack was no surprise. “When we were growing up, we all ran the other way if we saw him,” said Tracey Arch, a student at Kilgore Junior College and a former Goat Hill resident. “He’d rather hit you than talk to you.” Ray Don’s parents, Raymond and Francis Mosley, couldn’t control him when he was younger. “Ray Don’s mind was just different, that’s the only way I can explain it,” said Francis, who works as a cook at a local nursing home. “He always talked about how he hated white people and wanted to get them.” As a teenager, Ray Don turned to small-time crime. By the late eighties his adult rap sheet included aggravated assault, sexual assault, drug possession, attempted burglary, and fraud. In a statement to a private investigator, a Kilgore woman said that after she had accepted Ray Don’s offer of a ride home from a party, he drove down a dirt road and held a gun to her head while another man raped her. Another woman, an ex-girlfriend, said in a separate affidavit that Ray Don had gotten angry and held a shotgun to her head. “Oh my, you should have seen him,” Francis told me, “jumping on his women and dragging them up and down the yard.” Francis Mosley had made it a point to warn her grandson about Ray Don. She took DaRoyce to see him at the county jail. “This is my own son I’m talking about now,” Francis would tell young DaRoyce, “but you be careful of him. He gets so mad his eyes turn blood red.”

Through most of his childhood, DaRoyce hardly saw Ray Don. When DaRoyce was in elementary school, his mother dumped her children at the home of her uncle and aunt, Joe Rogers and Johnnie Mae Johnson, who lived just outside Kilgore in the community of Fredonia. Charline didn’t return to see them for at least a year. While the other children were split up among various relatives, DaRoyce stayed with Joe Rogers and Johnnie Mae. The Johnsons didn’t have much money for their own children—Joe Rogers was a self-employed auto repairman and welder—but they treated DaRoyce like a son. Most important, they kept him away from Goat Hill. “Before he came to us, he lived in a shack that half the time didn’t have water or gas,” said Johnnie Mae. “I remember when his mother came back around and told him he could move back in with her in Goat Hill, he said he’d rather stay with us.”

It was astonishing, people said, how DaRoyce pushed himself to succeed at school. He made A’s and B’s, earning the name “bookworm” from his family, most of whom hadn’t made it through high school. “I was the only black kid in the honors advanced classes at school,” DaRoyce said. “So who else was I supposed to talk to, other than the white guys?” He started to go to white kids’ parties. He even went along with one of his white friends to Kilgore’s august First Presbyterian Church. DaRoyce was remarkably outgoing: He loved teasing people and being a class clown in high school. But he told me he didn’t always like hanging around other black kids or going to their parties because there was usually a fight. “DaRoyce would get upset at the way the tougher black kids would act,” said Kathy McMillan, the mother of DaRoyce’s friend Aaron, who is white. “One night Aaron and DaRoyce were driving around and stopped to talk to some girls. Then another car of black kids came by to talk. Well, the girls went back to their own car a few minutes later and their purses were gone. Everyone knew who took them—the black kids. DaRoyce was so upset. He kept saying this was the kind of thing that gave all blacks a bad name.”

It had to have been a difficult balancing act for DaRoyce. “The black guys in the neighborhood would say, ‘Look at DaRoyce. He’s trying to be better than us. Look at that honky lover, that Uncle Tom,’” DaRoyce told me. “I didn’t want to be white. I just wanted to make something of myself.” But many white students refused to accept him. Some taunted other whites who were close to DaRoyce. In his senior year in high school, he lost his starting position on the basketball team after he broke his hand in a fight with a white classmate who had called his buddy Aaron a “nigger lover.” “I went over to that guy’s house,” DaRoyce said, “and I told him I don’t disrespect people and I hadn’t given him any reason to disrespect me. And I said I didn’t appreciate that ‘nigger’ shit. One thing led to another and we ended up fighting.” At another party he attended with Aaron, a fight broke out and DaRoyce got in the middle of it. He suddenly found several white guys surrounding him, including some members of the Kilgore College football team. “Everybody started shouting, ‘Let’s lynch the nigger,’” said William Linn, who was also there. “DaRoyce got the crap beat out of him. Then, after he left, the cops arrived and one of the white guys hosting the party told them, ‘Man, everything was fine until that nigger DaRoyce came around.’”

When I asked DaRoyce about his exposure to racism in Kilgore, he shrugged as if it was of little importance to him. “You have your prejudiced people, you expect that,” he said. His white friends said DaRoyce never seemed especially angry about race relations or felt a need to settle any scores. The polar opposite of his uncle Ray Don, DaRoyce never had a single brush with the law. As the superintendent of schools would later say, DaRoyce was “a happy-go-lucky student—part of the better class of students who obeyed authority and followed directions.”

But after graduation in May 1993, when some of his white friends headed to Austin or San Marcos for college, DaRoyce made a fateful decision. He decided to spend a year at Kilgore College to get some basic courses out of the way and save money to attend the University of Texas at Austin. Because he didn’t own a car, he moved back to Goat Hill to live with his grandparents, Francis and Raymond Mosley. “DaRoyce kept saying, ‘I’ll be joining you, I’ll be joining you,’” said Aaron McMillan, a handsome UT pre-med major who dresses in starched shirts, pressed khakis, and Roper boots. “Now all I think about is how different things would be if he had just gotten out of town.”

No one can say for certain what happened that year at the Mosleys’ rickety three-bedroom house, where a painting of the Lord’s Supper hangs on the living room wall and a lucky horseshoe is nailed to the front porch. Ray Don was not around: He was on his way to prison for violating the conditions of a probated sentence he had received for stealing a Pontiac Firebird. DaRoyce spent much of his spare time in Goat Hill hanging out with a teenager named Chris “Caboo” Smith, his teammate on the Kilgore High basketball team until he had been shot by a neighborhood teenager after an argument, leaving him paralyzed. In the afternoon Caboo would wheel himself out to the street and talk to whoever came by. Among the young men who whiled away their time in front of Caboo’s house, it was crucial not to be considered soft—not to cave in when challenged at basketball games in the park or act too sweet for a girl. Some of the homies liked to talk about “jack moves” and “gank moves”—Goat Hill slang for robberies. “But DaRoyce acted very polite,” said Tracey Arch. “My mother was always surprised by the way he addressed her as Mrs. If we were all hanging out by Caboo’s, and someone’s mother drove by, DaRoyce would hide the beer he was drinking to show respect.”

One thing, however, did change in DaRoyce’s life: His academic work started to suffer. By the end of the 1994 spring semester, his grade point average had plummeted to 1.5 and he was placed on scholastic probation. “I was goofing off,” DaRoyce told me, obviously embarrassed. He spent chunks of his days at the student union, playing pool and table tennis and talking to “the honeys.” He found himself hanging around Caboo’s in the evenings until midnight. By the end of his freshman year he had lost his $2,250 annual grant for student aid, though administrators said he could get it back if he took classes in summer school to improve his GPA. But DaRoyce said he would pay for school himself the next fall and prove what he could accomplish. He never got that chance. In June 1994 Ray Don Mosley returned from state prison to Kilgore and moved into the same cramped house where DaRoyce was living with his brother, sisters, and grandparents.

HE SMOKED CRACK. HE REFUSED TO get a job. He peppered DaRoyce with insults to see if he would fight or cry. He called him “Mr. Kilgore,” “punk,” and “pussy.” He liked to say DaRoyce was “too much,” meaning he acted too white. “He said DaRoyce had too many big ideas,” said Francis. For whatever reason, Ray Don was determined, said DaRoyce’s great-aunt Johnnie Mae Johnson, “to bring DaRoyce down to his level. I’ll never forget Ray Don saying, ‘If I have to go to the Big House again, then I’m going to take someone with me. And whatever I do, it’s going to be something big.’”

DaRoyce told me that Ray Don and Marcus Smith, a sixteen-year-old who lived down the street, would often regale one another with stories of burglaries and other crimes they had committed. Inevitably, Ray Don would turn to DaRoyce and say, “Man, you need to do something. You’re acting too nice.”

“No, man,” DaRoyce would reply, “I’m not down for that. It’s not my style.”

“One time, you punk, it ain’t going to hurt you,” Ray Don would say.

“What outsiders don’t understand is that in that poor neighborhood, being called a sissy, a punk, is a terrible blow,” said Louis-Victor Jeanty, the psychiatrist who interviewed DaRoyce. “And the man saying this to DaRoyce was Ray Don, this evil legend in the community who had nearly killed DaRoyce’s own mother. I’m certain DaRoyce was so scared of Ray Don that there was no question of following him, because if he didn’t, something bad would happen to him.”

I asked DaRoyce directly why he couldn’t walk away from Ray Don. “I guess, you know,” he said hesitatingly, “Ray Don was my uncle and I never had done anything with him and I guess I’d do that to get him off my back. If we robbed somebody or stole something, then I could say, ‘Yeah, I did it, now get off my back. You can’t say I haven’t done it before.’ So I just thought I’d get it out of the way, get him off my back, so he would leave me alone and quit throwing it up in my face.”

What doomed DaRoyce, however, was his decision to go along on a robbery of Katie’s, a place that made Ray Don seethe. In sworn statements to the police, many Goat Hill residents said they heard Ray Don say that he wanted to either burn Katie’s down or shoot the people in there. DaRoyce told me that Ray Don would say, “I want to rob all them prejudiced m—f—s up there at Katie’s. Somebody needs to rob them.”

DaRoyce insisted to me that neither Ray Don nor Marcus said anything to him about shooting anyone when they planned the robbery. He said he made it clear that he was not going to participate actively in the robbery. “I told them, ‘If ya’ll grab the money, that’s just you doing it. I’ll just be there.’”

On the night of July 21, 1994, Ray Don showed up at Caboo’s with a .380 semiautomatic pistol he had bought from a fifteen-year-old crack dealer. He showed it to Marcus and DaRoyce. Marcus later told investigators that DaRoyce said to Ray Don, “We’re going to chill.” But when Ray Don and Marcus began to head off to get a second gun, also a .380 semiautomatic, from a young man who lived behind Caboo’s house, DaRoyce suddenly said, “No, I’ll get it.” Why would DaRoyce, who hated guns, make sure to get one for himself? DaRoyce told me he did it to keep Marcus from getting the gun. “I knew that if both Ray Don and Marcus had guns, they probably would kill somebody, because they would both try to be bad; so I got the gun, because I knew I wouldn’t shoot anybody.”

Exactly what happened the remainder of that night is hotly disputed. But according to witness statements obtained by the police, this much is known: The trio went back to the Mosley house to put on gloves, bandannas, and ski masks. As they walked to Katie’s, a neighborhood acquaintance named Napoleon Wheat drove by in his pickup truck and shouted to Marcus, “What’s up, Cuz? Is you trying to rape somebody?” Ray Don then went to the nearby home of Napoleon’s brother, Darrell, to see if he could borrow a gun. Ironically, Darrell, who had been drinking throughout the night, had gone into Katie’s just a couple of hours earlier and ordered a beer. The barmaid, Sandra Cash, called the police, who came and took Darrell outside and asked him what he was doing there. A few minutes later, Darrell left.

Back at his house, Darrell told Ray Don that he didn’t have a gun. Ray Don, DaRoyce, and Marcus then headed toward Katie’s. According to one of DaRoyce’s statements, he kept “begging off” because he was scared. He said too many people in the neighborhood knew what they were going to do. “And they [Ray Don and Marcus] started cussing me, calling me a damn punk and stuff like that. I said, ‘I ain’t no punk, I’m just scared.’ They were like, ‘Naw, naw, we said we was going to do this. We was all in this together.’”

When they got to Katie’s, Ray Don, who was in front, told Marcus to bring up the rear so DaRoyce wouldn’t run off. A few minutes later, the three of them returned to Darrell Wheat’s house. One of the Wheat brothers gave the trio a ride back to Caboo’s house, where they divided the $308 taken from the bar. DaRoyce then went home, and Ray Don went off to buy some crack with his money. But like a psychopath who needed to return to the scene of his crime, Ray Don showed up at Katie’s at one-thirty in the morning to watch the police coming in and out of the bar. He also came back the next morning to watch the bodies being carried out. Two young Goat Hill women later said that when they gave Ray Don a ride the day after the murders, he proudly told them he had done the shootings because a man at Katie’s had once called him a nigger. Three other residents later signed affidavits saying Ray Don told them he had committed the murders.

Meanwhile, DaRoyce spent the day after the slayings buying a used car. His down payment was money he had received in an insurance settlement over a minor car accident. He then picked up some friends—including Caboo and Marcus—and drove to the Longview mall, where he bought some new shoes, shirts, and a sweat suit. Either out of utter remorselessness or because he was in some state of denial, DaRoyce was going right along with his life. “I was shocked, so shocked,” DaRoyce told me. “I felt bad about what had happened. But what am I supposed to do? Break down and cry? Do you want everybody to know?”

Right off, the police went looking for Darrell Wheat. He told them about DaRoyce, Ray Don, and Marcus. That Friday evening, less than 24 hours after the shootings, the three of them were picked up by the police and interviewed at the Kilgore Police Department. Initially, DaRoyce told FBI agent James Hersley, who had been asked by Kilgore officials to assist on the case, that he spent the evening at Caboo’s house and had never gone to Katie’s. In another room, Marcus was saying that he had turned and fled before the shooting started. But in a third room, Ray Don was talking. He said DaRoyce had gone into Katie’s and told everyone to lie on the floor. Ray Don said that after shooting Sandra Cash twice, “I threw [my] gun down and DaRoyce was shooting the people sitting at the table in the back of the head. . . . The people at the table were just falling on the floor. I saw a man near the pool table raise up a pool stick that he had. DaRoyce shot the man with the pool stick several times. DaRoyce also told me later that he had shot a lady up under the pool table.”

Around three in the morning, FBI agent Hersley confronted DaRoyce with the new information and told him that he was being arrested for murder. According to Hersley, DaRoyce cried out, “Oh, what have I done. I’ve ruined my life. I’m going to spend the rest of my life in jail.” DaRoyce then said he had shot two people and Marcus had shot two. After more time passed, Hersley and a Texas Ranger asked DaRoyce if they could tape-record his statement. During that session, DaRoyce changed his story again, saying that he had panicked and that Marcus had pulled the gun from his hand and shot everyone. When Hersley asked DaRoyce why he had earlier said that he and Marcus had each shot two people, DaRoyce replied that Ray Don and Marcus “had told me that if anybody went down, they were going to say that I shot two people, even though I didn’t shoot anybody . . . They were going to say that we all had something to do with it.”

After sunrise, about seven in the morning, ATF agent Larry Smith asked DaRoyce to show him where he threw the ski mask that he had worn in the robbery. When they got to the scene, Smith saw a glove, which DaRoyce admitted was his. Smith recalled that he said to DaRoyce, “You know, we can run gunpowder tests of your glove to find out if you were the shooter at Katie’s.” At that point, said Smith, DaRoyce said he was ready to change his statement and admit that he had shot all four people at Katie’s. (DaRoyce heatedly told me that he never made a confession to Smith at the scene.) Instead of taking the new statement from DaRoyce immediately, Smith suggested that everyone get some sleep. Six hours later, DaRoyce said he killed the Katie’s customers because Ray Don had pointed a gun to his head. According to witnesses in the room, after the eight-page, single-spaced confession was printed out, DaRoyce read it carefully for at least thirty minutes before signing it. It was 3:50 on a Saturday afternoon, more than sixteen hours after the police had started questioning him.

ALTHOUGH THE CASE LOOKED AIRTIGHT, there were significant problems. The glove and clothes that DaRoyce wore that night showed no trace of blood from the four victims and no trace elements of gunpowder residue. Ballistics and autopsy tests showed that the gun DaRoyce got from the man who lived behind Caboo had been the one used to murder the four customers at Katie’s. But a blood spot inside the small box where the gun was kept when the police recovered it matched Ray Don’s. Blood matching that of Buddy Waller, one of the victims, was also found all over the side of one of Ray Don’s tennis shoes. “Blood spatter” tests showed that Waller’s blood had hit Ray Don’s shoe at a high velocity, undoubtedly as a result of the force of a bullet entering Waller’s flesh. In other words, Ray Don had to be standing very close to Waller when he was shot. To further complicate matters, Marcus Smith said that when he saw Ray Don and DaRoyce after the shootings, Ray Don was covered with blood, but DaRoyce had no blood on him at all.

Ronald Dodson and Richard Stengel, two longtime firearms and toolmark examiners for the Bexar County Forensic Science Center in San Antonio, were asked by the defense attorneys to study the crime scene. They studied the shell casings that had been ejected from the two pistols. By noting the location of each casing on the floor, it was possible to determine where the killer or killers were standing when the shots were fired. Dodson and Stengel found that a shell casing lodged under the pool table next to Luva Congleton’s body had come not from the gun DaRoyce supposedly used but from Ray Don’s gun. If Ray Don had shot his gun only when he first came into the bar, as he said he did, his gun’s casings would have flown toward the right corner. Although police investigators suggested that the casing had been kicked by officers and ambulance attendants when they got to the bar, Dodson said it was impossible for someone to have kicked that casing on a carpeted floor all the way across the room and around the other side of Luva Congleton’s body.

Trying to understand how Ray Don’s blood got inside the gun box, Dodson and Stengel wondered whether Ray Don had used both guns that night. Dodson had been a homicide detective in St. Louis for ten years before coming to San Antonio. He was a hard-boiled cop who had investigated more than five hundred homicides and written a major paper in college on the importance of the death penalty. He almost never testified for defense attorneys. “But the more I kept looking at the evidence from the crime scene,” he told me, “the more I was convinced that DaRoyce froze at the door and didn’t shoot anybody, and Ray Don took the gun from DaRoyce.” I asked Dodson about the police department’s theory that Ray Don didn’t shoot Buddy Waller because the blood spatter was only on the side of Ray Don’s shoe, meaning that Ray Don had to be standing on the side of or away from Waller when he was shot. “Oh, that’s easy,” said Dodson. “I think after Buddy Waller had been shot in the leg and the head, Ray Don stood right over him, his foot at a sideways angle to his face, and he shot him through the eye. You have to ask yourself if DaRoyce Mosley could be capable of doing something that vicious.”

When I asked DaRoyce to tell me what really took place that night, he did admit that he had followed Ray Don into the bar. “Ray Don told me to shoot the lady in front of me. I said, ‘I’m not going to shoot anybody.’ He said, ‘Shoot her, goddammit.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to shoot anybody.’ He snatched the gun out of my hand and I turned to run.”

“But why didn’t you ever go back to the police and tell them that Ray Don had killed those people?”

DaRoyce’s body seemed to sag, and it appeared for a moment that he was about to break into tears. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t know I could just go back [to the police]. I felt [that since] I had already given several different statements, they would think that this one was also a lie.”

AFTER DAROYCE’S ARREST, SOME SUPPORTIVE Kilgore citizens anonymously placed an ad in the Kilgore newspaper announcing the DaRoyce Mosley Benefit Fund. “Friends of DaRoyce Mosley plead for your help to SAVE HIS LIFE,” read the ad, which also showed a picture of DaRoyce from his high school yearbook. There were, however, plenty of townspeople convinced that DaRoyce was a cold-blooded killer. Relatives of the Katie’s victims began showing up at pretrial hearings wearing black arm bands with the word “justice” emblazoned on them in gold letters.

The tension escalated when DaRoyce’s great-uncle Joe Rogers Johnson used his entire life savings, $15,000, to hire Austin attorney Gary Bledsoe, the head of the Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to defend DaRoyce. The 43-year-old Bledsoe—a tall, surprisingly gentle-voiced man who prefers cowboy hats, boots, and bolo ties—asked Cynthia Orr, a San Antonio defense attorney who specializes in capital punishment cases, to be his partner. (She worked pro bono.) They immediately caused an uproar when they alleged that the police were desperate to convict DaRoyce because they needed to prove they could successfully solve a case. (The Kilgore Police Department had been embarrassed by the infamous 1983 Kentucky Fried Chicken murder case, in which five Kilgore citizens had been abducted and were later found dead in an adjoining county. Although the police quickly identified four suspects, they were never brought to trial because of a lack of evidence.) “There has been a feeling in the community that maybe its police department isn’t up to snuff,” Bledsoe told me.

The two attorneys further inflamed the community when they said that the police and prosecutors didn’t care about the facts in the case because DaRoyce is black. In one motion to the court asking for a change of venue, Bledsoe and Orr wrote, “The local criminal justice system is still infected with racism, and many members of the community still hold racist beliefs that have not changed since the Civil War.” Bledsoe said that during one of his visits to the county jail to see DaRoyce, a jailer unleashed a large German shepherd just to scare him. It was no different, Bledsoe said, than police using German shepherds to attack civil-rights demonstrators in the sixties. Gregg County sheriff Bobby Weaver said the dog was never unleashed. “I am not calling him a liar,” Weaver snapped about Bledsoe, “but he is coming close.”

In their most damaging attack, Bledsoe and Orr charged that Ray Don had worked out a deal with prosecutors to keep himself off death row. At a pretrial hearing, Ray Don was brought to the witness stand. Although Ray Don invoked the Fifth Amendment to keep from answering most questions, the judge did order him to answer one question Bledsoe posed about his making an agreement with the district attorney to testify against his nephew in exchange for DaRoyce’s being tried first. Ray Don said yes. Bledsoe then asked if “high-ranking public officials” had assured him that he would not get the death penalty if he took the stand against DaRoyce. Again, Ray Don invoked the Fifth Amendment, and this time the judge ruled that Ray Don didn’t have to answer to avoid self-incrimination. “Something stinks,” Ronald Dodson told me. “I’ve been around too long not to smell a deal.”

As the capital murder trial began this past October, the case could be seen either as a small-town version of the O.J. Simpson trial, with defense attorneys blatantly playing the race card, or as a reenactment of To Kill a Mockingbird, with callous white officials unfairly prosecuting a black man. Rumors had swept through Kilgore that the Ku Klux Klan was planning to bomb DaRoyce’s grandmother’s house if DaRoyce was acquitted. There were also rumors that a group of black men had vowed to burn down Katie’s if DaRoyce was convicted. Because of the publicity, it had been difficult to find jurors. When 500 county residents were summoned to the courthouse for jury selection, only 207 showed up.

After the jury of eleven whites and one black was finally seated, Gregg County district attorney David Brabham—a wiry man with a thick East Texas drawl and a forceful speaking style—told jurors that DaRoyce’s confession superseded any of what he called the “technical arguments” of defense attorneys. “DaRoyce went into Katie’s Lounge for the thrill of it, for the thrill of doing something devious,” Brabham said. DaRoyce, who had turned 21 the day before testimony began, sat quietly at the defense table in a gray jacket, dark pants, and a purplish tie. There were days when he softly waved to some nicely dressed white spectators who sat toward the back: parents and former high school classmates from the wealthier side of town. His grandmother Francis, and his mother, Charline, who had gotten off drugs and started singing in the church choir, whispered “We love you” as he was escorted in and out of the courtroom each day. It was hard for the people in the courtroom not to like him. During a recess, state district judge Alvin Khoury, who was presiding over the trial, gave DaRoyce a chocolate-chip cookie.

One of the trial’s most dramatic moments came when Chris “Caboo” Smith was wheeled to the witness stand. In a mumbling voice, he told the jury that on the night of the shootings, DaRoyce came back to his house and said, “We did it.” He said DaRoyce told him that he had shot the woman under the pool table. When Caboo was asked if DaRoyce had ever said that Ray Don had threatened or intimidated him, Caboo said no. DaRoyce appeared flabbergasted. Bledsoe tried to show that Caboo was biased because he is Marcus Smith’s first cousin. (Marcus earlier had been given only a two-year sentence at a juvenile facility because the juvenile judge concluded that he had left Katie’s before the crime was committed.) But Caboo said in court that he was DaRoyce’s “best friend.” Desperate, Bledsoe tried to paint Caboo as a drug dealer who couldn’t be trusted, based upon the fact that Caboo sat out in front of his house while people drove by. Caboo just shook his head and said he didn’t deal drugs.

Later, when DaRoyce’s final confession was read aloud, jurors could be seen giving angry looks his way. In response, Louis-Victor Jeanty and Gary Mears, a Tyler psychologist who also had seen DaRoyce, testified that they thought the confession was unreliable. They gave various explanations of why DaRoyce might have said those things: He was already guilt-ridden about going along with Ray Don’s burglary scheme, he was slightly delusional because he had been kept up throughout the night, or he thought the police would stop badgering him if he just said what he thought they wanted him to say.

The explanations might have been more persuasive if the jurors had heard from DaRoyce himself. But the defense lawyers didn’t call him to the stand. (Bledsoe told me he was worried that DaRoyce would be “too susceptible” to Brabham’s suggestions.) What’s more, when the defense tried to present testimony showing Ray Don to be a murderer, Judge Khoury ruled it inadmissible, proclaiming, “Ray Don Mosley is not the one on trial here.”

The law in a death penalty case required prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a “probability” DaRoyce would commit future acts of criminal violence—which they never did. The lone witness they could find to testify about DaRoyce’s allegedly violent personality was a longtime Kilgore High School history teacher named Marita Ann Ater, who had a reputation, one former student later said, as “a busybody meddling type.” Ater testified that when she taught DaRoyce in 1992, he was so disruptive that she sent a small stack of disciplinary notes about him to the office. More than just being the class clown, she said, “he craved attention.” She said when she once told him that he could do great things some day if he just harnessed his energy, he replied, “I will be famous some day, but it won’t be by following your dumb rules.”

It seemed preposterous that prosecutors believed DaRoyce should be put to death based on a teacher’s assertions that he had acted up in her classroom. The defense presented other teachers who said DaRoyce was not a discipline problem, and the school’s vice principal testified that he never received any notes from Ater about DaRoyce. But in their final arguments, prosecutors asked the jurors to imagine DaRoyce standing behind them when they are at a convenience store. “Wouldn’t your heart skip a beat?” assistant prosecutor Rebecca Simpson asked. The jurors listened closely, and after an afternoon’s deliberation, they returned to the courtroom to announce their decision. They had determined that DaRoyce would constitute a constant and violent threat to society and that there were no mitigating circumstances to justify a life sentence in prison. Judge Khoury asked DaRoyce to stand before the bench. “DaRoyce,” he said in even tones, “by law, I have no choice but to assess your punishment as death.”

For a moment DaRoyce didn’t move. Then he looked at Bledsoe, the man who had become his father figure, and mouthed, “What?” Charline rose, then collapsed on the floor, her body convulsing spasmodically. The victims’ relatives hugged and wept. Outside in the hallway, a distraught black woman told a television reporter, “You people know that if it had been a white person who had killed all those people, he wouldn’t have gotten the death penalty.” But Brabham was unmoved. “DaRoyce was exposed to opportunities,” he said. “He had the intelligence and the ability to do something with his life, and he chose to go the other way.” When I later asked Brabham whether he would also seek the death penalty in Ray Don’s case, he paused, then finally said, “The case is still pending, and that’s all I can say on the matter.”

WEEKS LATER, KILGORE CITIZENS were still talking about the trial. Some were able to explain away the discrepancies in DaRoyce’s case by saying that as long as he was involved in something in which innocent people were killed, he should pay. “If DaRoyce hadn’t gone along, maybe Ray Don would have backed out,” one Kilgore resident who sat through the trial told me. But when I talked to Ron Dodson, he shook his head and said, “Goddam, I hate to sound liberal, I really do. But there are too many questions about this case for it to end with the death penalty. This kid participated in a robbery in which four people were killed—and that should definitely involve a jail term. But putting this kid to death? Oh, man, no.” 

At the all-black, 122-year-old Kilgore Baptist Church, where Charline sang in the choir, the Reverend Gary Walker preached about Jesus’ followers in the New Testament who had been thrown in jail. “The Lord opened the prison doors for them, and he can do it for us,” Walker said. Meanwhile, at Katie’s, where the dark bloodstains from the killings were still visible on the carpet, I heard a man cheerfully tell a new barmaid, “Don’t you worry, honey. As long as I’m sitting here, no nigger’s going to come through that door alive.”

In mid-December I parked outside the red-brick walls of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellis I Unit, near Huntsville. A prison guard in a watchtower buzzed me through the barbed-wire gates. In the small front yard of the unit was a nativity scene; a banner reading “Merry Christmas” had been placed above the front door. In the room where visitors are allowed to talk to death row inmates, DaRoyce came out in handcuffs, followed by a prison guard. A thick wire screen separated us, but when I leaned forward, I was able to see DaRoyce giving me that same sympathetic smile. “It’s unreal,” he said. “It’s unreal.”

He told me that just before his transfer to the Ellis I Unit, he had seen Ray Don in the county jail. He said Ray Don promised to tell the police the truth about the shootings. “But saying and doing are two different things,” DaRoyce said. “I have no way of knowing what he’ll do. I don’t know how to get him to tell the truth.”

Eventually, I got to the question I had been wanting to ask him since the trial. Why did he confess to all the killings after the ATF agent told him there might be gunpowder residue on his glove? DaRoyce shrugged and told me that on the way to Katie’s that night, when the three of them were in some woods, he had pulled out the gun and shot it into the air just to see what it felt like. “You got to realize,” he said, “that I had the glove on when I shot the gun. And Ray Don had told me that was the gun he had used to kill the people. So I felt like it [the murder rap] was going to come back on me.”

I stared at him. In their earlier statements, no one—not Ray Don, not Marcus, not DaRoyce himself—had said anything about DaRoyce’s shooting a gun in the woods. He could tell I was skeptical about this latest story. “But what did you possibly think was the advantage of confessing?” I asked.

“I thought it would be a lot easier on me if I said I was forced to do it, that Ray Don made me do it against my will.”

DaRoyce might have been telling the truth. Ballistics experts testified that any gunpowder residue on his glove could have been washed off by the heavy rain that fell in Kilgore shortly after the shootings. And the police had never been able to locate all the bullets in Katie’s that supposedly came from his gun that night. Still, it was a difficult story for me to swallow. I doubted that I was ever going to know for sure what DaRoyce had done on that one crazed, panic-stricken night in which he gave in to the diseased culture of Goat Hill and the relentless prodding of his uncle.

A prison official walked by to notify me that my time was up. The official had other work to do: The execution of a young black man who had shot a Dallas police officer was scheduled for that night. The man had been kept in a cell just three cellblocks away from DaRoyce’s. “You know I shouldn’t be here. You know I shouldn’t be here,” DaRoyce said to me as I rose. “I’m different than these other guys. They’re like Ray Don—his type of people, people always in trouble.”

A guard put the handcuffs on DaRoyce and began to lead him away. But DaRoyce turned and asked, “You aren’t going to give up on me, are you?” I didn’t know what to say. There was a metallic sound as the prison door closed behind him.

Related Content