By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Only rarely was Warder's judgment called into question publicly. In one instance, Warder was recused from presiding over a 2006 hearing for death row inmate Charles Anthony Nealy, whose execution for the 1997 robbery and shooting of two clerks was stayed after a witness recanted his testimony.
As the original trial judge, Warder would have presided over any hearing on the recantation. But a confidential letter she had written to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was unearthed by The Dallas Morning News: "[The witness] was hostile, and it was obvious to me that it was a desperate attempt, most likely influenced by others in his family, to put off the execution of his uncle. I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt of the guilt of the accused. This is a death-worthy case."
Judge Pat McDowell ruled that Warder's letter created the appearance she couldn't be impartial and ordered her recused from the case. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately ruled against Nealy. He was executed in March.
When Doug Graham walked into the home he shared with his common-law wife at 6:30 p.m. on April 29, 1986, the place was dead quiet. Galua Crosby's car was in the driveway, so he called out, "Hey, baby..." and grabbed a beer.
Graham, then 31, stuck his head in their bedroom and found a horrific scene: Crosby bound and gagged, lying face down on their waterbed. Graham turned her over. Seeing his wife's blood-soaked hair, Graham "freaked out" and ran out the front door screaming for help. A neighbor returned with him to the house and confirmed Graham's worst fear. The woman he loved was dead, shot three times in the head.
While the neighbor called 911, Graham had the presence of mind to hide his pot, speed and drug paraphernalia before Garland police officers arrived. But as the ghastly scene sank in, Graham confessed that he used and sold drugs, mostly meth. He gave detectives the name of a drug buddy, Clay Chabot. A few days before the murder, they'd argued about $450 worth of meth Chabot had purchased. The stuff had gone gooey, making it impossible to snort. But Chabot, a fast-talking Navy veteran, didn't seem too upset and refused Graham's offer to buy it back.
The night after Crosby's funeral, Graham got a call from Chabot, who said his brother-in-law, Gerald Pabst, had told him about seeing a big red-and-white car parked outside of Graham's house the morning of the murder.
Graham had met 35-year-old Pabst, whose sister was married to Chabot, only a few times. Confident that Chabot had nothing to do with the crime, Graham asked if Chabot would share his information with Garland detectives.
Chabot agreed and gave police his wife's gun, saying that Pabst had taken it the morning before the murder, then returned the .25-caliber automatic later the same afternoon with all the bullets discharged. Ballistics would later prove it was the weapon used to kill Crosby.
Three days after the murder, police arrested Pabst. In his wallet: a pawn ticket for a boombox owned by Graham (now dead). In his car: Graham's pocket knife. On a T-shirt in his possession: specks of human blood.
Pabst told a detective that Chabot had borrowed his car about 5 a.m. on the day of the murder. That afternoon, Chabot had given him the boombox, which he pawned. Pabst said he knew nothing about the crime. It would later be revealed that he passed a polygraph.
The next day, Garland police arrested Chabot and charged him with murder. Pabst was released but wasn't off the hook.
The case developed by Garland police was shaky when Warder got the file. No physical evidence connected either man to the crime. Tests for blood type and serology of semen and sperm found in Crosby's vagina couldn't exclude either man; DNA technology wasn't advanced enough in the 1980s to test such a limited sample.
With two criminals pointing fingers, Warder needed more evidence. So she and an investigator walked the block at the murder scene. They found a neighbor who, on the morning of the murder, had seen a car parked in front of another house that was a "creamy color" and could have been Pabst's old beater. Then two men got in, passing what could have been a TV over the top. Though the female witness couldn't identify either Pabst or Chabot, Warder believed she'd seen the men leaving together. A few weeks before Chabot's October 1986 trial, Warder charged Pabst as well.
But she had a dilemma. The evidence was weak; without the testimony of one against the other, Warder had little hope of getting a guilty verdict.
That's when Kelly Loving entered the picture. A former prosecutor and state district judge, Loving had gone into private practice in July 1986. One of his first clients was Pabst. After hearing his story, Loving says, he was so convinced Pabst was innocent, he agreed to represent him for no fee.
Loving contacted Warder and offered to have Pabst polygraphed so she could feel confident he was telling the truth. They arranged for Bill Parker, a former homicide detective, to give Pabst a polygraph, his second.