Free to Kill

Kenneth McDuff is one of the most sadistic, vicious murderers Texas has ever produced. Why did the state parole board put him back on the streets?

McDuff driving, they headed south, crossing the Johnson County line, eventually stopping along a dirt road about eleven miles from where they had left the Ford with the boys’ bodies. McDuff took Edna Sullivan from the trunk, made her undress, then threw her in the back seat and began raping her. He raped her two times, made Green rape her, then he raped her again. In all this time, Green heard the girl say just one thing: “I think you ripped something,” she cried out as McDuff brutalized her for the third time. His sexual appetite momentarily in check, McDuff drove them to another location, down a gravel road. Stopping, he took the girl to the front of the car and told her to sit down on the road. Green wasn’t sure what McDuff had in mind. Then he saw McDuff force the girl’s head to the ground and begin choking her with a section of broomstick. “He mashed down hard,” Green told lawmen. “She started waving her arms and kicking her legs, and he told me, ‘Grab her legs.’” While Green held Edna Sullivan’s legs, Kenneth McDuff crushed the life out of her. Then they threw her body over the fence and headed home, stopping along the way to bury the boys’ billfolds and discard their own bloody underwear.

Roy Dale Green never fully recovered from the horror of that night. The next afternoon, while he was taking a Sunday ride with friends, news of the killings came over the radio and suddenly Green was blurting out the whole story. “My God, I’ve got to tell somebody!” he cried. He became the prosecution’s star witness in the case against Kenneth McDuff, served five years for his part in the crimes, and returned to Marlin, where he lives to this day. “He stays out at the old family home and spends most of the day in his sister’s beer joint, the Town Door,” says Sheriff Larry Pamplin, who has known Green all his life. “To say he’s messed up is a real understatement.”

Vowing Kenneth’s innocence, Addie McDuff hired a lawyer from Waco and sat in the courtroom with her daughters throughout the trial. McDuff denied any knowledge of the killings, of course, suggesting that Roy Dale Green was probably responsible and, in an aside to the jury, whining that Falls County sheriff Brady Pamplin had had it in for poor Kenneth McDuff for years. During one recess, Mama McDuff told reporters that Kenneth had been with a girl from his church at the time the three teenagers were murdered, that her son was willing to risk death in the electric chair to spare the girl’s reputation. “He’s too good for his own good,” she said.

Justice for McDuff, Inc.

Two times in 1969 and again in April 1970, Kenneth McDuff came within a few days of his execution date, and each time he was granted stays. McDuff probably wasn’t sweating it. Only a handful of executions had taken place in the United States in the two years before he was convicted and none in the time he had been on death row. And the case of Furman v. Georgia was working its way through the system. In 1972 the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision, ruling that the unlimited discretion given to juries in capital trials—the ability, for example, to sentence someone to death without first focusing on the particular nature of the crime and the particular characteristics of the accused—amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and thus was unconstitutional. In effect, all the capital convictions in the country were overturned. Within a few months, the death sentences of all 88 inmates on death row in Texas were commuted to life.

McDuff was transferred to the Ramsey Unit and assigned to work in the fields, which was where prison officials put inmates who needed the tightest supervision. “We considered McDuff to be extremely dangerous and a high escape risk,” says David Christian, who was an assistant warden at the unit in the seventies.

In 1977, Addie McDuff hired a new lawyer, and the Kenneth McDuff story took on the trappings of a Hollywood melodrama. A Dallas attorney named Gary Jackson began a long and costly effort to prove that McDuff had been framed and that the true killer was his evil running mate, Roy Dale Green. Over the next decade, Kenneth McDuff became more than merely a client for Gary Jackson; he became an industry, incorporated in 1989 under the name of Justice for McDuff, Inc. There was, until recently, talk of book and movie deals. Jackson, who refused to be interviewed for this article and no longer represents McDuff, seemed a curious candidate to lead the McDuff crusade—he and his wife were both active in the Republican party of Texas, and Jackson had a career in the U.S. Army Reserve, where he now holds the rank of colonel. He didn’t usually practice criminal law. Nevertheless, Gary Jackson became a zealous advocate for the convicted killer. Poring through old trial records and newspaper accounts and crossing the country to interview witnesses, Jackson devised a new scenario for the events of August 6, 1966.

In a 26-page, single-spaced letter written to the chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles in 1979, Jackson presented what he considered dramatic new evidence. At the trial thirteen years before, McDuff had testified that on the night of the killings he handed over the keys to his new Dodge Charger to Green so that Green could go on a date. In the revised version, Gary Jackson claimed that Green needed the car to pull a robbery—the implication being that McDuff wanted no part of the robbery but had no objection to loaning his car to Green. In both versions McDuff had waited for Green in a burned-out shopping center in Everman, napping while Green satisfied his lust for murder. The problem, of course, was how Green could have driven both the Dodge and

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