It's a curious phenomenon, the "death row groupies" who become enamored with men who committed some of the most vile crimes you can imagine. When Scott Peterson arrived at California's San Quentin State Prison fresh off a conviction of murdering his wife and unborn child, he received amarriage proposal within the first hour
"These are usually women who would love to date a rock star or rap idol, but if they wrote to a musician, they might get a letter. Here they could get a marriage proposal," as Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin, author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, explained to D in 2011.
In Texas, these proposals have often resulted in actual nuptials carried out (if not consummated) through a practice called proxy marriage, in which the inmate signs an affidavit allowing them to wed without being physically present. But with proxy marriages virtually banned during the previous legislative session, and because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice won't allow prison weddings, death row and other inmates no longer have the chance to formalize their unions.
The state's de facto ban on prison marriages is only temporary. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that prisoners have a right to marry. Besides, state Representative Trent Ashby, the author of Texas' proxy-marriage limitations, has said repeatedly that it was meant to cut down on fraud, not prison weddings.
Still, the matter has provided a glimpse at a specimen related to but distinct from the death row groupie. Via The Dallas Morning News, meet the death-row gold-digger.
[Polk County Clerk Schelana] Walker wrote to Ashby to support the bill after watching a parade of women troop through the courthouse to marry condemned inmates on nearby death row. Some seemed sincerely in love, she said.
"They would show up in a white wedding dress with flowers. It was a big deal," she said.
Others, particularly those from Europe, seemed more businesslike.
After obtaining the license, most brides-to-be went down the hall to be married immediately by a local justice of the peace.
Walker said the JP often asked them "what drew their interest" to death row.
In her letter to Ashby, Walker said the JP was "advised by many of these women that they will go back to their country and get a life insurance policy on the absent applicant because their country doesn't recognize the death penalty."
Walker said in an interview that one woman married a death row inmate who was executed in a matter of months.
"And within a few months after that," Walker said, "she was back getting a marriage license to marry someone else."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.