Former Death-Row Inmate Sent Back to Prison

Joy Weathers watched from her front porch as the car rolled to a stop.

Martin Draughon stepped out of the back, and Weathers rushed to meet him. It was the first moment of Draughon's parole.

For almost 20 years, Draughon had been locked up on death row in the ­maximum-­security-level Polunsky Unit in northeast Texas. But in the summer of 2006, a federal judge ordered a retrial and Draughon accepted a deal for a 40-year sentence. Almost overnight, he was signing papers for parole.

Draughon was released to live with Weathers at her home in nearby Livingston, a lakeside community about 70 miles northeast of ­Houston.

Weathers had met Draughon while he was still in prison and was now his fiancée. She hugged him as soon as the two were inside the house. A party had been planned for that night to celebrate Draughon's release. The guests would be arriving in a few hours.

About 20 people showed up, many of them anti-death penalty activists who befriended Draughon while he was on death row. Weathers hadn't met many of the guests, and she told them about the tiny radio station — KDOL — that broadcast from the house. Weathers had become the main voice of a Sunday night show aimed at the prisoners in Polunsky.

Weathers also talked about the prison ministry she had started. All Life Is Precious Ministries was devoted to converting inmates to Christianity and had become a staple of the radio broadcast. Draughon would be the new star of the show.

A few people at the party drank champagne or wine. They hugged Draughon and rubbed his bald head. They told him how happy they were that he was out.

A man from New York roamed the house with a camera. Draughon posed for a few pictures in the kitchen and showed off his prison tattoos.

Gloria Rubac, a member of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, pulled Draughon away from the crowd the first chance she had.

"Aren't you worried about being in Livingston? This isn't friendly country," Rubac said.

Draughon responded, "Gloria, I've lived on death row for 20 years. There isn't a rule they got that I can't follow."

Five months later, Draughon was back in prison on a parole violation. The GPS monitoring device Draughon was required to wear had lost signal for about an hour, and he failed to answer phone calls from his parole officer.

Draughon's arrest has set off a flurry of protests from Weathers and members of her ministry, who allege that Draughon is being punished by his parole officer and prison officials who are angry because he participated in the radio show.

Weathers believes that God sent Draughon to Livingston to be part of her ministry. God is still using Draughon and his case, she says, to help other men who have been treated unjustly.

Draughon also believed in the ministry when he was first released. He saw himself as a voice of hope for the men he left behind on death row.

"It was somewhat of my obligation to be there trying to give some hope and encouragement to those guys," Draughon says.

Sitting in prison, with a possible release date of 2015, Draughon now knows that was a mistake.

Martin Draughon does not dispute his guilt in the crimes that sent him to death row. He just doesn't think he deserved a death ­sentence.

In the summer of 1985, Draughon was driving an ice cream truck on several routes through Houston. He enjoyed the job, mainly because of the women he met. He started dating one of the women, and immediately fell in love with her two children. Draughon's new girlfriend also had a serious cocaine habit.

"He just liked to have a good time. He wasn't a punk. He wasn't a thug," says Draughon's younger sister Felicia, who was 17 when her brother was sent to death row. "I have fond memories of my brother skateboarding on his skinny skateboard with his long hair and golden tan."

The ice cream business soon went under, and Draughon was left with the pressure from his ready-made family. His own drug use had also spiraled into addiction. Draughon needed money.

"I was young, poor white trash, doing the wrong things for the right reasons," Draughon says. "And everything got way out of control."

His girlfriend's brother, Kenneth Gafford, had recently lost his job as a cashier at Long John Silver's. Gafford told Draughon that robbing the place would be easy. He knew where the safe was.

Gafford drove Draughon to the restaurant, located in far west Houston, just after closing. Draughon waited near the entrance, and Gafford pulled his truck to the rear of the store to wait.

Inside the Long John Silver's, the manager and several employees were cleaning up. A female employee lived nearby, and the woman's younger brother had walked to the store to wait for her.

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Paul Knight
Contact: Paul Knight