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Man sentenced to death in 1984 murder, rape of SMU student

June 18, 2010

Donald Andrew Bess was sentenced this afternoon to die for the 1984 murder and rape of a Southern Methodist University student.

Earlier this week, Bess, 61, was convicted of sexually assaulting Angela Samota, then stabbing her repeatedly, possibly with a kitchen knife from her condominium near the SMU campus.

Samota was 20 at the time of her death. The murder remained unsolved for decades, until recent DNA tests connected Bess with the crime.

He is currently serving a life sentence for an unrelated rape in the Houston area.

In closing arguments this morning in the penalty phase of the trial, Dallas County prosecutor Josh Healy said Bess must die to pay for ruining so many lives.

Two women testified that he had raped them as well. Those attacks were in addition to the one for which he is currently serving life.

His former wife testified that he physically and psychologically abused her.

And he’d just been paroled on a rape conviction in 1984 when he raped and killed Samota.

If Donald Bess isn’t deserving of a death sentence … then who is? Healy said.

Who’s done this much harm? Who’s tormented this many people?

As the prosecutor spoke, several jurors nodded, seemingly in agreement.

Defense attorney John Tatum urged the jury to be merciful.

What is mercy? It’s about you and you, all of you, he said. It’s not about the person you give mercy to.

But defense attorney Richard Franklin said he wouldn’t ask for mercy. He asked that jurors follow the law. If the do so, he said, they’ll find that there are mitigating circumstances to warrant a life sentence for Bess.

He cited Bess’ poor health, his difficult upbringing, and his relatively clean prison disciplinary record as reasons for the lesser sentence.

He acknowledged that his client had done weird stuff, bad stuff, but said Bess could live out his days in prison without posing a threat.

Once a jackass, always a jackass. Once a really bad person, always a really bad person, Franklin said.

But the question the jury must decide, he said, is: Always a murderer or not; always a threat or not.

Franklin said he would understand if a jury in 1984 had sentenced Bess to death. But this jury, he argued, has seen that Bess can behave himself behind bars, and that should make a difference.

Prosecutor Pat Kirlin countered that if the death penalty was warranted in 1984, it’s warranted now. He called Bess an evil, evil, wicked man.

Defense attorneys conceded during the trial that semen found in Samota’s body provided a DNA match to Bess.

But they said that evidence didn’t prove that their client murdered Samota. She was found stabbed repeatedly, possibly with a knife from her kitchen.

On Thursday, jurors heard from a woman whom Bess pleaded guilty to raping in 1977 — seven years before Samota’s death.

Elizabeth Bitsy Kegg said that after Bess abducted her off a Houston street, he told her, You’re a victim of my aggression. He then raped her at knifepoint, she said.

The Dallas Morning News does not typically identify victims of sex crimes, but Kegg wanted her name to appear.

She was the second woman to testify about being raped by Bess.

He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for raping Kegg and kidnapping another woman, but he was paroled in March 1984. Months later, in October of that year, Samota was raped and killed.

Bess’ ex-wife, who asked that she not be identified, said he abused her during their marriage. They wed in 1969 and divorced three years later.

The woman, who has been remarried for more than 35 years, said Bess was always telling me that nobody would want me, that I wasn’t pretty. It just went on and on until I believed it.

She said that while she was pregnant with their daughter, Bess shoved her against a wall. The next day, she had black eyes from hitting the wall, she said.

When their daughter was 5 months old, she testified, Bess got angry and kicked the baby’s crib — while the baby was asleep in it. The crib, on wheels, went rolling across the room.

That was the end of it for me, his ex-wife testified. I could take a lot for myself but not for my children.

After leaving Bess and moving in with her parents, she discovered that she was pregnant again, she said. The second child was a boy.

She said Bess once sent her a check for child support. It was for $25.

He eventually gave up his parental rights, and the children were adopted by her new husband.

Samota’s older sister, Gail Samota, wept as she testified about the loss of Angie.

It’s just really unspeakable. I try not to speak of it, she said.

I try to bury it and, yet, I try to hold on to the good times.



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