Halloween murder resurrected 30 years later

Published: Oct. 27, 2011 at 8:28 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2011 at 3:59 PM CDT
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Amarillo, TX - The family of a convicted killer is asking their brother's name be cleared, thirty years after the murder took place.

October 31st 1981, Sister Tadea Benz was brutally stabbed, strangled and raped in her room at the St. Francis convent in Amarillo.

Ten days later, 17-year-old Johnny Frank Garrett was arrested for the crime.

He claimed his innocence for 11 years but was eventually put to death.

After 30 years of torment his sisters Jeana Weaver and Janet Dobbins say they are hoping to clear Johnny's name.

"He's not a monster, that is the worst I have ever heard somebody call Johnny Garrett is a monster," said Jeana.

Around the time of Sister Tadea Benz's murder another woman, 77-year-old Narnie Bryson was killed the same way.

Leoncio Perez Rueda was convicted for that murder, because of similarities in the cases Garrett's sisters think he is to blame for both.

"What a horrible, horrible way to die, for somebody to come into her room, and to rape and strangle and kill her and beat her and just leave her there, so Leoncio Rueda Perez is a monster," added Janet.

Attorney Jeff Blackburn, who represented Garrett during his appeals, also believes he's been wrongfully executed.

"I'm not saying that he, didn't break in there, I'm not even saying that he didn't murder the nun, but what I am saying is that he was not guilty of raping her and I will always be convinced of that. I think that now if we were able to use the science that we have, with DNA testing, I think he would be exonerated of that crime," said Blackburn.

To be exonerated, 47th District Attorney Randall Sims says there are steps that would have to be taken.

"They are going to have to demonstrate to the court that the substance to be tested is still capable of being tested for DNA, it hasn't been tampered or altered with," said Sims.

On top of that, his attorneys have to present even more evidence showing he's not guilty.

Blackburn says easier said than done.

When asked if Blackburn thought anything would be able to clear Garrett's name, he said, "I doubt it, I doubt it, this is going to be one of those unsolved mysteries of the criminal justice system although it's really not that unsolved."

Janet says she will continue to fight to have Johnny cleared.

"Thirty years later, oh my God, it's a long time, it's a long time, but I'll be here in 40 years too still crying for his name to be cleared, that's all I want," said Janet.

When asked if she ever thought it would happen, she said,"I'm working at it."

Rueda, the man, some believe to be the real murderer remains in prison.

He is serving 45 years for Bryson's death.