Texas Court Reconsiders Use of Hypnosis-Induced Testimony in Dallas County Death Row Case | Dallas Observer


Death Row Case in Dallas County Puts Hypnosis on Trial as 'Junk Science'

Charles “Big Charlie” Flores and Richard Childs were searching for money when they slid under the garage door of a one-story brick home on Bergen Street. The Black family had built it in the early 1960s when the one-block neighborhood of Farmers Branch was nothing but pasture. They had raised...
Charles Flores and Richard Childs broke into a house on Bergen Street in Farmers Branch and killed Elizabeth Black while searching for money.
Charles Flores and Richard Childs broke into a house on Bergen Street in Farmers Branch and killed Elizabeth Black while searching for money. Brian Maschino
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Charles “Big Charlie” Flores and Richard Childs were searching for money when they slid under the garage door of a one-story brick home on Bergen Street. The Black family had built it in the early 1960s when the one-block neighborhood of Farmers Branch was nothing but pasture. They had raised two children and four grandchildren there and were hiding $39,000 in cash for their son Gary Black. Flores and Childs aimed to find it when they entered the house early in the morning Jan. 29, 1998.

Flores was a big man rumored to have connections to the Mexican mafia. Childs, who had a strung-out Joe Dirt look, was involved with Gary Black's ex-wife, Jackie Roberts. Both men had criminal records. Childs and Flores distributed methamphetamine and used it. They had been smoking it with Childs' girlfriend shortly before they pulled up in a psychedelic-colored Volkswagen Beetle and slipped underneath the Blacks' garage door at 7:30 a.m., police say.

Meth is why they wanted the cash. They scored a half-pound of it a few hours earlier and took it back to Flores' trailer, where he weighed it and found Childs' drug dealer had shorted him. Flores pointed a handgun at Roberts, purportedly as a joke, and persuaded her “to call the drug dealer to try to rectify the situation,” but dealers are not known for rectifying situations. So Roberts told Flores about the $39,000 in cash stashed behind a medicine cabinet at her mother-in-law's house in Farmers Branch. Her ex had left it there and told his mother, Elizabeth, to give Roberts $500 a month in spousal support while he served 15 years in prison on a drug charge.

They were searching for money and planning to shoot the guard dog, Santana, but didn't realize Elizabeth Black would be home, too. Each man had placed a potato on the end of his gun — a .380 and .44 Magnum — to act as a poor-man's silencer. When Bill Black came home from work later that morning, he discovered potato fragments splattered on the walls and ceiling and his 64-year-old wife, Elizabeth, and Santana dead. The $39,000 was still hidden in the master bedroom closet. The medicine cabinet had been torn off the wall.

Law enforcement recovered the .44 Magnum, believed to have been used to kill the dog, from Childs' home after his arrest on the night of Elizabeth Black's murder. Flores was captured a few months later in Dallas. The murder weapon was never recovered.

Childs took a plea deal and served 17 years of a 35-year prison sentence before being paroled. Flores, who went to trial before Childs' deal, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Witnesses against him included a friend and Flores' father-in-law, who claimed Flores told them he was there at the murder; Childs' former girlfriend, who smoked dope with them moments before the murder; and an eyewitness who had undergone forensic hypnosis shortly after the murder. Although Childs said he was the one who killed Elizabeth Black when he signed the deal, Flores was culpable for the murder since he took part in the crime.

“When you look at that research on memory and eyewitness testimony, a lot of the research doesn't necessarily apply to real-world thinking.” – Marx Howell, former DPS inspector

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Forensic hypnosis is what brought Flores, who is now 47, back to a Dallas district courtroom in October and again in December. Texas was supposed to execute him in June 2016, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals delayed the lethal injection a week before it was scheduled. Flores' new attorneys filed a motion that argued, in part, that he deserved a new trial because forensic hypnosis “was based on junk science.”

Law enforcement officials, however, claim that forensic hypnosis is one of several tools that has helped  generate leads in some high-profile cold cases. Former Texas Department of Public Safety Inspector Marx Howell, who helped to develop forensic hypnosis for the department, acknowledges that some investigators may have misused hypnosis but says when it's done appropriately, it's a reliable and viable technique.

“When you look at that research on memory and eyewitness testimony, a lot of the research doesn't necessarily apply to real-world thinking,” Howell says. “It's made-up crimes and made-up information and watching video tapes of the crime and hypnotize [the supposed witness]. But how do you re-create the emotional terror of a sexual assault victim? We're talking about real-world application here.”

Texas courts have allowed hypnosis-induced testimony since the early '80s. Twenty-one other states also allow it. Federal investigators and the Texas Rangers are known to use it more often than local police, and Howell has traveled around the world to teach forensic hypnosis to law enforcement officials.

Gerald Carruth, former chief of legal services for the Texas DPS, points out that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has already upheld hypnosis-induced testimony — in State v. Medrano in 2004 and Zani vs. State in 1988, in which the court created 10 procedural safeguards known as the "Zani factors" that a trial court should use to determine whether a testimony is trustworthy. Some of those factors include the forensic hypnotist's level of training, the creation of recordings of all contacts between the hypnotist and the subject, and the presence of persons other than the hypnotist and the subject during any phase of the hypnosis session.

"Zani has been challenged and upheld over 30 years now," Carruth says.

Flores' case hinges on the Court of Criminal Appeals' willingness to take another look at Zani in light of the fact that the scientific view of hypnosis has changed over past 30 years.

'An Invaluable Brick'

The first case of hypnosis-induced testimony to be introduced by prosecutors in a Texas trial court involved George Vizard IV, who was found dead in a cold-room storage locker at the Town and Country convenience store in Austin where he worked in the late '60s. A political radical and staff member of the Rag, an underground newspaper in Austin, he'd been shot twice with a .357 Magnum.

Mariann Garner-Vizard, a well-known activist, writer and spoken-word poet who legally adopted her pen name, Mariann G. Wizard, after Vizard's death, thought he looked too serious for her when she met him, but she enjoyed hearing him argue about politics in the Union at the University of Texas at Austin. She began attending demonstrations with him and “learned a little about nonviolence and not to wear earrings or open-toed shoes on a picket line,” she wrote in her 1991 essay “The Lie.”  They married in December 1965 at the old Methodist Student Center in Austin and spent the next two years exploring the left political landscape and living in a series of roach-infested apartments near the UT campus.

“Sunday, July 23, 1967, [is] engraved on my heart,” she says.

Wizard, who was 20 when her husband died that day, wrote in her essay that most people at the time were convinced that it was a political murder. Austin police believed otherwise. Vizard's killer, Robert Zani, a former UT student, had decided to rob the store early that Sunday morning because he had once worked there and knew the safe's combination. Former prosecutor “Mad Dog” Joe Turner recalls that Zani had “sociopath eyes” and needed the money because he planned to marry a Mexican prostitute and had only $2 in the bank.

Two nights before the shooting, Zani tried to elicit help from two other UT students, but they turned down his offer and reported him to authorities when word began to spread about Vizard's murder. Austin police never questioned him.

Fourteen years passed before Zani was brought to justice. He was arrested in Austin on a credit card fraud charge and was a suspect in several Austin and San Antonio robberies and in the murder of Julian Dess, a San Antonio real estate agent. He'd also been cashing his mother's Social Security checks. He made one fatal mistake: He upset his wife.

“This is not junk science. It's provable and it works." – former prosecutor Joe Turner

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Irma Zani told investigators that her husband had killed his mother in the early '70s, as well as some “smart-ass communist” at a convenience store in 1967.

But he didn't just kill his mother. He hit her in the head with a hammer, took her body to the basement, sawed off her head and limbs, and put her body parts into suitcases. Once they cleaned up the blood, the Zanis left Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and threw out her body parts along the way. Irma Zani was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Robert Zani had been using different aliases and posing as a rich doctor to gain access to expensive homes to rob them. He also killed a real estate agent in the late '70s. After police captured him at a Ramada Inn in Austin in March 1980, Zani wouldn't tell them who he was.

“OK, motherfucker, we're going to find out,” Turner, who was 25 at the time and a fairly new prosecutor, recalls thinking.

Turner started looking for witnesses to Vizard's murder and found one with only vague memories of the crime. Turner asked him if he would be willing to go under forensic hypnosis, a fairly new law enforcement technique that had never been admitted as scientific evidence until Zani's trial in the early '80s.

“This is not junk science,” Turner says. “It's provable and it works. It's just another piece of the puzzle. If all you had was hypnosis and tech, it might be difficult but not impossible. It's a brick in that [case] wall. In my case, it was an invaluable brick.”

'A Guiding Hand'

Texas Ranger Carl Weathers conducted the forensic hypnosis interview with the witness, a regular customer of Town and Country convenience store. Weathers and other Rangers had persuaded the DPS in 1980 to send them to the new forensic hypnosis class taught by Michael Boulch, a Houston resident who'd been trained in forensic hypnosis.

“I was skeptical at first, a real bad skeptic,” Weathers told the Texas Ranger Association Foundation for a project known as “In Their Own Words — Oral Histories of the Texas Rangers.”

“But during that school, I learned what hypnosis really is and the benefits of it,” Weathers continued. “And, uh, really, just to let you know what it is, it's relaxation. Everybody in this whole world is hypnotized at least twice a day and that's just as you're waking up in the morning and just as you're going to sleep at night. You're totally, completely relaxed, and that's what hypnosis is.”

“It looked like that artist had used that picture to draw this composite. It was scary.” – Texas Ranger Carl Weathers

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He went to Houston to interview the witness in Vizard's murder, Jerry Magoyne Jr., whose father had a construction business in Austin. They'd often go to the Town and Country store on their breaks.

“The guy relaxed, I mean to tell you,” Weathers said. “I got him to regress back. … I had him in there, and he was reliving it. He was telling me verbatim what was going on. I would have to stop him because time was going like it was in regular time back then. It was going to take forever. I got a two-hour tape I gotta get this on, you see. So I said, 'OK, time's moving forward real fast.' And you can do that in hypnosis. Time, you can make it stand still, back up, go forward, slow motion, whatever.

“Anyways, I got him to the point where he's up at the counter and the guy's waiting on him. And I get him to describe this clerk that's waiting on him. He started at the top of his head, come down as far as he can see and go back, back down, back up.”

A forensic sketch artist was sitting in the hypnosis interview and sketching the clerk, whom police believe was Zani, but Magoyne couldn't recall the man's eyes. Advocates for forensic hypnosis claim it is a telling point because he was unwilling to fill in the details when he couldn't recall them. Magoyne wasn't trying to please officers by making up details, they say; he was simply recalling what he could remember in a relaxed state. 

Paul Ruiz, an Austin police detective who'd been investigating the cold case, had a picture of Zani in his briefcase and showed it Weathers.

“It looked like that artist had used that picture to draw this composite,” Weathers said. “It was scary.”

Austin police had sent over seven or eight pictures of suspects. Weathers took Magoyne out of the hypnotic trance and said, “See if you can pick this guy out.”

“That's him,” Magoyne said when he came upon the picture of Zani.

At Zani's murder trial, the defense brought in an expert witness, a psychologist trained in hypnosis. The defense grilled Weathers during cross-examination. Similar to Flores' expert witness, Weathers acknowledged that people sometimes confabulate and fill in blanks to please the hypnotist. The defense also suggested that Weathers asked leading questions, but Weathers testified that he followed protocol and recorded the entire interview. The witness didn't confabulate, Weathers said, because if he had, he would have filled in the details about the eyes.

The interview recording was admitted into evidence and played for the jury. Law enforcement was also able to trace the .357 magnum used to kill Vizard back to Mexico with the help of Zani's wife. The jury convicted Zani of murder in March 1981. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. A year later, he was found guilty of murdering his mother.

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the latter conviction in April 1986 and barred the state from retrying the case, citing “many errors,” such as not giving Zani a speedy trial when he requested it to sentencing him under murder laws that were passed after he hammered his mother to death. The prosecution had also failed to tell jurors that Zani's wife was an accomplice whose testimony had to be corroborated, according to news reports.

Zani also appealed the conviction for Vizard's murder, claiming hypnosis was junk science, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the lower court's ruling and found Weathers had followed the necessary protocols. In 1988, the appellate court requested that guidelines be implemented so other law enforcement officials would follow what Weathers had done during his interview. It became known as the “Zani ruling.”

“I didn't know when I was doing this hypnosis that I was creating guidelines that the Court of Criminal Appeals was gonna use as case law,” Weathers said. “I'm like the woodpecker, though, that was in this real tall tree, pecking away. Directly, a bolt of lightning hit it and split the tree in half. Well, the woodpecker still thinks he did that. So there's a guiding hand on me, I guarantee you.

"It wasn't because I was that smart. I had some good training, and I was lucky. I had a guiding hand.”

Zani died in prison in 2011. He's buried in the prison graveyard in Huntsville.

Questioning Credibility

Howell, the DPS inspector, was a skeptic when his superiors appointed him to a seven-member committee a year before Zani's arrest in 1980. It was to determine how best to use hypnosis to help solve cases.

The state police were interested in studying data concerning law enforcement's use of hypnosis and developing  criteria in training personnel. At the time, the biggest case of law enforcement using forensic hypnosis regarded a crime in July 1976 in Chowchilla, California, when 26 children and a school bus driver, Edward Ray, were kidnapped and buried alive in a makeshift grave. They were able to dig themselves out and contacted police, who decided that forensic hypnosis should be used to help track down the suspects.

Ray had seen the license plate of the kidnapper's vehicle but couldn't remember all the digits. Psychiatrist William S. Kroger, considered the leading authority on hypnosis, conducted the hypnosis session for law enforcement. Ray was able to recall all but one of the digits, which led to the arrest and conviction of three suspects, Fredrick Wood and James and Richard Schoenfield.

“It was the catalyst case that got law enforcement off high center to look at this technique as a valuable interviewing strategy under certain conditions,” Howell says.

After his appointment to the committee, Howell went to visit psychologist Martin Reiser's Law Enforcement Hypnosis Institute in Los Angeles to check out the program. Unlike stage hypnosis, a form of mind control to entertain audiences, forensic hypnosis seeks to relax witnesses by eliminating distractions to help them recall details of crimes. Its only purpose, Howell says, is to refresh the subject's memory. He compares it to struggling to recall a name that you knew, only to remember it later when you're relaxed.

“I became a believer instead of a skeptic,” he says.

Howell began teaching forensic hypnosis in 1982 and criminal profiling in 1984. He went on to serve as the president of the Texas Association for Investigative Hypnosis and the International Society for Investigative and Forensic Hypnosis. He was also inducted into the International Hypnosis Hall of Fame.

The seven-member Texas committee developed self-imposed guidelines, such as using trained investigators unfamiliar with the case to eliminate the possibility of leading the witness. It also established record-keeping requirements, including audio and video recording, and created a 50-hour training course for state police.

In late 1979, the DPS hypnosis program became an official part of the DPS training manual.

Howell claims that forensic hypnosis is about 75 percent effective and acknowledges that defense attorneys and some people in the scientific community often misunderstand it.

Dr. Bernard Diamond, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of California, Berkeley, was one of the discipline's earliest critics. In 1980, he wrote and published “Inherent Problems in the Use of Pretrial Hypnosis on a Prospective Witness” in the California Law Review. At that time, police in cities such as Los Angeles; Seattle; Denver; Houston; San Antonio; Washington, D.C.; and New York were using forensic hypnosis, as were the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Air Force special investigations unit.

“Unfortunately, sensitivity to the limitations and hazards of hypnotism and especially to the myriad ways of intentionally and unintentionally suggesting response to the subject requires much more experience and training,” Diamond wrote. “In my opinion, even psychiatric and psychological professionals highly skilled in the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes are apt to be naive in recognizing its limitations as a 'truth-telling' technique.”

"Even psychiatric and psychological professionals highly skilled in the use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes are apt to be naive in recognizing its limitations as a 'truth-telling' technique.” – Dr. Bernard Diamond

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Diamond encouraged the courts to re-examine the general rule of law that hypnotic-induced testimony is admissible. He claimed that hypnotized witnesses' recollections were contaminated, which made them incompetent to testify. The risk is so great, he wrote, that police using hypnosis is the same as the destruction or fabrication of evidence.

Diamond wasn't the only one raising concerns about law enforcement's practice of hypnosis. The American Psychological Association and the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis claimed that the training of lay hypnotists such as law enforcement officials was unethical, but psychologist Steve K. Dubrow-Eichel said the medical community should accept lay hypnotists, as it had clinicians, in his editorial “Turf War Battle: Who Owns Hypnosis?” in the October 1996 American Society of Clinical Hypnosis newsletter.

'Not a Shortcut'

Jill Barganier sat in an office chair at the Farmers Branch Police Department with her head bowed and hands crossed in her lap as a forensic hypnotist began her session. It was a week after Elizabeth Black's murder in the late '90s. Bargainer, 36, lived next door to the Blacks and had peered through her mini-blinds that January morning. She had seen the killers get out of the Volkswagen Beetle and later described Childs to a sketch artist and picked him out of a photo lineup.

But Barganier could only recall that the passenger was big like Flores, possibly white, with dark hair that she thought may have been long like Childs, Flores' defense attorney Gretchen Sween wrote in court documents. (Flores had short hair.)

Farmers Branch PD's hypnosis officer, Alfredo Serna, had placed Barganier into a deep state of hypnosis by speaking in a neutral tone and asking her to focus on the space between her fingers and visualize the events of that late morning in 1998. It was known as the movie theater technique, in which the hypnotist asks the subject to pretend as if she were sitting in a movie theater and watching a movie of her memories of the day in question.

Although the technique has been largely discredited, Barganier was able to recall the color of the car and the hair and eye colors of both suspects. But she wasn't able to pick Flores out of a photo lineup after the hypnosis session and didn't fully recognize him until his capital murder trial a year later. Serna told the court that he was aware that some people were not able to be hypnotized and he wasn't certain if Barganier had been hypnotized. If she wasn't, then it was simply a police officer interviewing a witness, he testified.

At the time, DPS investigators had conducted more the 1,100 hypnosis sessions, resulting in additional information in 876 sessions. The Texas appellate courts had upheld convictions in which hypnosis was used for the purpose of memory enhancement in four criminal appeals from 1983-88, including the Zani case. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reaffirmed it in 2004.

The Texas Legislature had passed a law effective in 1988 that charged the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education with implementing forensic hypnosis training and testing for law enforcement. It grandfathered in prior forensic hypnosis training but not the testing requirements.

“The DPS stresses that hypnosis should be used as an aid to investigations, not a substitute,” Howell wrote in one of many reports posted on his personal website. “Investigators have been cautioned to assure that standard investigative methods have been fully utilized before hypnosis is used.”

Forensic hypnosis also can be used in certain limited cases at the federal level to help generate leads, according to the U.S. Attorneys' Criminal Resource Manual. But it notes, "The information obtained from a person while in a hypnotic trance cannot be assumed to be accurate. Therefore, any information obtained by the use of hypnosis must be thoroughly checked as to its ultimate accuracy and corroborated.”

“The information obtained from a person while in a hypnotic trance cannot be assumed to be accurate." – U.S. Attorneys' Criminal Resource Manual

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Today, the Texas Rangers use forensic hypnosis more than any other law enforcement agency in the state because they're less likely to know specific details of a local investigation when they're called in for help, says Perry Gilmore of the Texas Association for Investigative Hypnosis and the Texas Crime Stoppers Council, which advises the governor on crime stoppers programs around the state. He is trained in forensic hypnosis.

“We always say it is not a shortcut for a good traditional investigations,” he says. “When we do get information from hypnosis, we try to verify as many of those facts as we can.”

Captured in Dallas

Flores watched Sween "dismantle" the Dallas county prosecutor's case during closing arguments of his hearing in late 2017. He called her a “superhero” on his blog, “Innocent on Death Row.” Sween used a PowerPoint presentation projected on three screens in the courtroom to give a lesson on the history of the criminal appellate law and statute related to forensic hypnosis. She discussed a recent change in Texas law that allows defense attorneys to challenge hypnosis as “junk science.”

Flores, who is now his late 40s, has been sitting on death row for 20 years. He's still a large man, but his dark hair is gone. Dressed in prison whites, he's smiling in a photo on his blog, where he shares journal entries and news from death row. He shared a link to a January 2016 news article that paints him as a victim of racism, using that to justify the fact that he spray-painted Childs' Volkswagen black and burned it a couple of days after Black's murder, firing his gun several times at a passerby and fleeing to Mexico for several months until law enforcement captured him when he returned to Dallas.

It wasn't a simple capture. Flores gave officers his brother's name when he was arrested in Kyle, about three hours southwest of Dallas, for driving while intoxicated and two counts of assault on a police officer. He was caught after the FBI picked up his trail and law enforcement chased him through Dallas until he crashed his mother's blue Volvo. At Parkland Hospital, where we was getting treatment for his injuries, he tried to take an officer's gun and sprayed the the officer and hospital staff with mace before being restrained.

“People say that guilty people run, but I can also tell you that you also run if you're scared, you run when you know they can give you a life sentence, you also run if you know you're the only Mexican in the a group of whites,” Flores told Splinter news.

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Flores' photo is on display at his mother's house.
Brian Maschino

Seeking a Consensus

At Flores' hearing late last year in Dallas, Sween called Flores' expert, Steven Lynn, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He explained that in the past 15 years, a shift has occurred in the psychological community, which believes hypnosis is not safe to use on lost memory retrieval in any way and the findings in the Zani case were erroneous, meriting a new trial for Flores.

The prosecution claimed that Lynn wasn't pointing out anything new and the substance of his opinion was available in Flores' original trial in the late '90s.

"The court finds that, through reasonable diligence, [Flores] could have obtained the testimony of Dr. Lynn or a similar expert at the time of his trial," wrote Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Ott.

In court documents, Sween introduces testimony from hypnosis and memory expert Martin Orne, one of the world's foremost forensic psychologists and someone whom courts have used to determine if forensic hypnosis should be submitted as evidence.

“Dr. Orne no longer believes that procedural safeguards reduce the risk associated with hypnotically enhanced memory,” she wrote. “There is a consensus among scientists in the field of memory and eyewitness identification that hypnosis is an inherently suggestive pretrial procedure based on data that supports that perspective.”

The prosecution introduced its expert witness, Dr. David Spiegel, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University whose knowledge of hypnosis spans 45 years. He is also part of the American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs panel that evaluated the effects of hypnosis on memory.

"It suggested that there can be complications with hypnotically refreshed memory, not unlike the things that are in the Zani hearing," Spiegel testified. "And it suggested that caution should be used when hypnosis is used in the forensic setting. ... Sometimes false information or confabulation can occur. So it should be used with caution." 

Spiegel testified that although new scientific studies on hypnosis and memory have been conducted, their findings have been consistent with what was already known before Flores' original trial.

“There is a consensus among scientists in the field of memory and eyewitness identification that hypnosis is an inherently suggestive pretrial procedure." – defense attorney Gretchen Sween

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Sween also argues that the state did not present any physical evidence and rested its case on the testimonies of drug dealers and users, some of whom were seeking leniency in their own cases. The only “seemingly untainted evidence the state presented to place Flores on the scene was Bargainer's hypnotically altered testimony,” she said.

Prosecutors, however, claim hypnotically refreshed testimony is still admissible in Texas courts as long as it meets the Zani factors. In Barganier's case, when she arrived at Flores' trial in the late '90s and recognized Flores as the passenger, the court conducted a hearing and determined that her testimony was admissible.

Psychologist George Mount, an expert for the prosecution, testified during Flores' original trial that he'd evaluated hundreds of hypnosis sessions, taught hypnosis for 20 years and served on the board that developed the exam for Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards and saw no evidence of any incorrect procedures on the video recording of Barganier's forensic hypnosis session.

Jason January, the lead prosecutor in Flores' original trial, summarized the corroborating evidence placing Flores at the scene as follows: Eight people witnessed Childs and Flores together shortly before Black's murder, two people claimed Flores admitted being present at the scene and one person saw Flores torching Childs' Volkswagen on Interstate 30 two days after Black's murder.

Flores' case is now in the hands 195th District Judge Hector Garza, who will rule sometime in the coming months.
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Flores' mother, Lily, doesn't know when her son began his life of crime.
Brian Maschino

'Drowning in Fear, Choking on Terror'

Flores' picture hangs in the center of the living room wall in his mother's home. As in his blog photo, he's smiling in his prison whites. This time, he's making a heart with his hands in front of his chest.

His mother, Lily, has lived in the small home for 18 years. They moved to the Dallas area from Midland in the '80s when the oil economy bottomed out. Her husband, Catarino, died shortly before her son's scheduled execution in 2016.

In her early 80s, Lily is stooped with age and doesn't hear very well anymore. She wasn't able to hear much during her son's recent hearings. She hasn't gotten to hug her son since he was arrested. Over the years, she'd visit him at least once in month on death row in Livingston, about four hours away, but a thick glass always separated them.

Flores, the youngest of four brothers and one sister, played football in junior high school and was always coming and going and running around when he was in high school. Lily isn't sure when he started his life of crime.

"I could not tell you," she says and laughs. "I'm his mother."

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Flores' brother Juan Jojola blames drugs for his brother's descent.
Brian Maschino
Flores' brother Juan Jojola blames it on Flores' roofing work and the appeal of easy money.

"You know, in this roofing work, you get brain damage up on that roof, especially when it's hot," he says. "We'd drink a few beers, man, but ol' Charlie wasn't into drugs. He just got caught up in it, and it went sour on him. That's really it in a nutshell."

Flores claimed in his January 2016 Splinter news feature that he'd been cooking breakfast for his wife, Myra Wait, at the time of Black's murder, but court records show that Wait claimed he was with Childs at the Blacks' home.

Flores' father was getting ready for work in the bathroom one morning when he heard about his son's arrest on the radio, but Lily says it wasn't long before they joined him in Dallas County Jail. They were arrested for hindering the apprehension of a felon in May 1998. She told the prosecutor, Jason January, that they didn't know where he'd gone, but January claimed she had sent money to her son in Mexico and let him borrow the car.

"And we ate bologna sandwiches, too," she says and chuckles. "I got a four-year probation."

Flores' book The Warrior Within: Inside Report on Texas Death Row sits on the coffee cable in the living room. His mother been selling copies.

Inside, Flores writes, "I started to comprehend what it meant to be on death row. I was beginning to understand it was a race against the clock, the most important race I'd ever run. That understanding came at a terrible price, a price I pay daily. It's paid in the form of anxiety attacks that come from nowhere that I have today. It's paid in nightmares that wake me up in a cold sweat, shaking my head trying to knock the haunting images out of it, nightmares of living my last day on death row, being taken to Huntsville and being put in the holding cell next to the death chamber, drowning in fear, choking on terror, as I wait for them to execute me."
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