When Jesse DeWayne Jacobs said he was being murdered by the State of Texas in 1995, he knew of what he spoke. After all, he had done time in Illinois for killing a developmentally disabled man and had helped his sister kill her lover’s 25-year-old estranged wife — the mother of two young children.
Jacobs was executed for his role in killing Etta Urdiales, but not before igniting a firestorm of protest that led many people wrongly to believe Texas was putting an innocent man to death.
As Stuart Taylor Jr., a writer for American Lawyer Media wrote after Jacobs’s punishment was carried out, “in short, the word ‘innocent’ does not fit comfortably in the same sentence with the late Jesse Jacobs, except perhaps in a narrow and technical sense.”
Before getting into the facts of the case that resulted in Jacobs’s execution, let’s see what kind of a man he was — while remaining cognizant that being a bad person should not automatically condemn one to death.
- In 1964, while a juvenile, Jacobs was placed on probation for stealing five cars, two motorcycles, and three bicycles. He escaped from the juvenile detention facility, stole another vehicle, and was placed in a youth correction center.
- In 1967, Jacobs was convicted of burglary, for which he received probation.
- In 1973, Jacobs was convicted in Illinois for murder, for which he received a 25-50-year sentence.
- In 1977, Jacobs was convicted of attempted escape from the Illinois penitentiary, for which he received an 18-year sentence.
- Six years later, he moved from Illinois to Texas in 1983 while on parole and was under the supervision of a Texas parole officer from December 1983 through February 1986.
- While in Texas, Jacobs became romantically involved with a fourteen-year-old girl, who gave birth to his child. Her parents eventually signed a complaint against Jacobs, who was arrested for inducement of a minor.
His sister, Bobbie Hogan, posted his bail and they hatched the plot that would result in Etta Urdiales’s death. At the time, Etta and her ex-husband, Michael, were embroiled in a bitter custody dispute. Jacobs later told police that Hogan had offered him $500 and a place to stay if he killed Etta for her. Finding his motorcycle missing, Jacobs stole a pickup truck and went looking for Etta Urdiales.
Shortly after Jacobs was released on bail in February 1986, Etta disappeared from her apartment in Conroe Texas. Searching the apartment, police found blood spatters in the bedroom and bathroom matching Etta’s blood type. Her car was missing, but a stolen pickup truck was found in the parking lot.
Jacobs subsequently engaged in a crime spree with an accomplice. They kidnapped a woman from a store parking lot and tried to use her ATM card to get money. Then they robbed three fast food restaurants at gunpoint, kidnapped a man and robbed him and finally engaged in shootout with police in Oklahoma after an armed robbery of another restaurant. Although his accomplice was wounded and captured, Jacobs managed to elude police for a few more days.
He was caught in September 1986 after stealing a car in Hudspeth, Texas. When he was questioned about Etta’s disappearance, he confessed to killing her.
According to Jacobs, soon after his release from jail he went to Etta’s apartment, struck her on the head, abducted her, and drove her to a clearing in the woods. She was still “dizzy” when they arrived in the woods. He took a sleeping bag from her car and put it on the ground for her to sit on, then grabbed her left hand and shot her in the left side of the head with a .38 caliber revolver.
Jacobs took the police to where he had buried Etta, a small clearing in a wooded area in southern Montgomery County, and pointed out an area of the ground covered with pine needles and limbs. The police found a blue sleeping bag containing the remains of the victim, whose body was in the same position as Jacobs had described: face down with her head pointed southeast. An autopsy showed that her death was caused by a gunshot wound to her left temple and that there was a tear in another part of her scalp.
At his trial, however, Jacobs recanted his confession and blamed Hogan.
He testified that he called Hogan to tell her that he was fleeing the state. He met with her in a parking lot and agreed to help his sister “deal with” the victim. According to Jacobs, he thought Hogan merely wanted to scare Etta into giving custody of her children to Michael Urdiales.
Jacobs testified that his motorcycle had been stolen, so he stole a pickup truck the next day. He admitted that he waited outside Etta’s apartment, abducted her, drove her to the woods, tied her up, blindfolded her, placed her in a sleeping bag in a tent he had erected, and then left to return her car to her apartment. Seeing police outside the apartment, he parked her car in a parking lot one-half mile away.
He then telephoned Hogan. Both he and Hogan went back to the woods. Then, Jacobs testified, he told Hogan to go to a nearby abandoned house. Jacobs untied Etta, took her to the house, and made her sit on a bed. He went outside and sat on the porch.
Jacobs testified that he heard a shot and then saw Hogan with a gun. Hogan told him that she did not mean to kill Etta. Jacobs took the gun, told Hogan to go home, and said he would take care of things. According to this version of events, Jacobs buried the victim’s body but did not actually kill her.
However, during a visit with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Jacobs told her that he did kill Etta. Jacobs later wrote her a letter again admitting that he killed Etta “for the love of a sister.”
In his closing argument, prosecutor Peter Speers told jurors that Jacobs’s last story was incredible and that his original confession was supported by the evidence
“The simple fact of the matter is that Jesse Jacobs and Jesse Jacobs alone killed Etta Ann Urdiales,” he said.
The jury convicted Jacobs of capital murder and sentenced him to death.
Shortly after, Hogan was put on trial for her part and Jacobs was a key witness against her.
In that trial, prosecutor Wilbur Aylor told Hogan’s jury, “I changed my mind about what actually happened. And I’m convinced that Jesse Jacobs is telling the truth when he says that Bobbie Hogan is the one that pulled the trigger.”
Hogan was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, based on a jury finding that she had pulled the trigger.
In his final statement, Jacobs, 44, said: “I have news for you. There is not going to be an execution. This is premeditated murder. I hope, in my death, I’m that little bitty snowball that starts to bury the death penalty.”
After Jacobs was executed, Hogan told The Dallas Morning News that her brother had falsely accused her and that she “did not shed a tear when they executed Jesse Jacobs.”
Others, however, did.
The day after Jacobs was executed, The New York Times wrote: “Texas has just executed a man with full knowledge that he was not guilty of the crime for which he was put to death. State and Federal courts and the Supreme Court, also fully aware of the facts, let the execution happen.”
An editorial in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, entitled “A Grave Defeat of Justice” called the execution “not only incredible but monstrous and absurd.”