When murder strikes a person down in the prime of life, all hopes, dreams, the ability to love and make a positive difference in this sin-sick world, and every potential, inside the soul dies.
On a crisp, cool morning of November 8th 2005, Angela Alex, age 30, was funeralized at New Life Ministries on Englewood Street near Langley Road in Houston Texas. A soulless killer had murdered Angela Alex, and her unborn child a few days earlier on a lonely dark road. Mourners strolled into the mid-size chapel to the soothing sounds of memorial music playing softly in the background. A floral tribute to the befallen mother of four children was arranged neatly on-top of the shiny coffin that contained her body. Grieving relatives embraced one another, their voices wracked with sobs. They cried out in unison, “Oh, no,” “Why Lord?,” and “Why did someone take Angela away?”
A tribute from a relative lamented, “Life is a struggle with pain. Can’t see the sunny day for the rain. In a world filled with trouble and sin, this journey is weary. Sometimes you’re happy. Sometimes you’re sad. Why she had to go and leave us..I guess it was time for her to go home. Rest in peace, Angela.” As the lifeless remains were interred into the soil of planet earth, it would take a symbol of earthly justice to track down and smoke out this killer.
Death destroyed this dedicated mother on Tuesday, November 1st 2005. Angela’s body was found a short distance from her SUV Ford Explorer in the 400 block of North Rankin Circle Road near Gillman Park Drive. Harris County Sheriff Office homicide detective Robert “Bob” Tonry arrived at the scene, shortly after midnight along with fellow detectives Mark Reynolds, Mario Quintanilla and Bill Valerio. Detective Roger Wedgeworth later joined this elite group of officers.
As crime scene officer Glover collected evidence at the scene the investigators spoke with a witness who discovered the woman. “While trying to get back to I-45 North Freeway,” the witness recalled, “I happened to drive onto Rankin Road when I saw a parked SUV, with it’s park lights on. So as I got closer, I saw the body in the road.” Visible blood suggested the victim had suffered a head or neck wound.
Identification found in the vehicle officially identified the woman as Angela Alex.
Investigators noted the victim was found face-down in the road in a awkward manner, a short distance from where her vehicle was parked, with the driver’s door open. A Harris County Medical Examiner rolled the body over and observed the woman was shot in the back of her head with a small caliber weapon. Observing the woman’s stomach it appeared she was pregnant.
Detectives quickly dispelled robbery as a motive due to finding $500 in cash, two ATM withdrawals totaling $1000, including expensive jewelry found on her body. A closer inspection of the body and the physical evidence found nearby revealed the following: the victim was clad in a gray warm-up suit, her hands clutched a hairpiece, and the keys to the vehicle she drove were still in the ignition but the engine was off. Observing the driver’s door open, it appeared she had exited hurriedly.
As a cool breeze stirred the night air, the detectives, using high-beam flashlights, walked towards the easterly area of the location where they found a pair of female tennis shoes, and a torn sweater scattered in the road. These items apparently been worn by the victim. “There’s been a struggle,” Tonry suggested to Reynolds and Valerio, as they walked together, illuminating dark areas of the crime scene with flashlights.
The Medical Examiner recorded the following evidence on Angela’s body. “It appear this woman been shot in the head; there is a large gash on her [right] knee including another deep wound on her back.”
A cell phone was attached to Miss Alex waistband. CSI officer Glover collected the phone and a suspicious, empty “Budweiser can.” Information in the victim’s vehicle listed her address at 2726 Winterpark Court in Houston.
Angela Alex’s Husband Notified
Arriving at the address the detectives spoke with the dead woman’s common-law husband identified as Steven Green. Tonry broke the sad news to Green his wife had been found shot to death. “We’re very sorry for your loss,” Tonry lamented. Visibly grief-stricken, the man blinked back tears. As the shock wore off, the distraught husband, composed himself and began answering questions about his deceased wife.
Green told detectives that three of Angela’s boys were his and that she had another child from a previous relationship. Green said Angela was a great mother to her children and that they were expecting another child due to his wife’s pregnancy. “Any problems between you and your wife or do you know of anyone she was having problems with?” Tonry asked skeptically. Green told Tonry that he “knew of nobody who may have wanted to kill Angela.” In a more detailed statement, Green said earlier that day that Angela called him on his cell while he was working at the transmission shop. Green said Angela boasted about having another friend because he wasn’t being the man he should be in her life. “When I asked her the friend’s name she said it didn’t matter.” Once Green arrived home around 7:30 that evening, he said Angela left home between 8:30: and 9:00 and he figured she went Christmas shopping at Walmart or may have went to Third Ward to check on a second place she had rented at the Cuney Homes Apartments.
When Tonry described the deserted location on Rankin Road where Angela was found her husband said he never knew his wife to travel in that particular area. “I don’t know why she would be over there,” Green stated.
Did Steven Green Murder His Wife?
Bobby Cartwright, a former boyfriend of Angela Alex, accused Steven Green of killing his wife. “I don’t believe Angela would have gone out at night because she had bad eyesight,” Cartwright conferred with detectives. “I believe her husband Steve had sent her out somewhere and someone was hid in Angela’s truck.” Cartwright recalled that when he last spoke with Angela on October 31st, she mentioned leaving her husband because he often yelled at her and physically pushed her around.
Cartwright further recalled Angela’s displeasure over her husband’s lack of sexual prowess. “Angela said her husband Steve Green could not satisify her sexually.” Cartwright promised detectives that if he heard anything significant that he would contact them. Detectives entertained a titillating thought: Did Steven Green have a plausible motive to kill his wife, particularly since she mentioned to Green that she had another friend. Who was this new friend in her life that she talked about? And did Angela tell Steve that his sexual performance didn’t measure up in the bedroom? The potential for violence was real if Steve Green discovered his wife having sex with another man to fulfill her sexual needs due to his fading labido.
Detectives needed to find out if Steve Green owned a .22 caliber weapon. Detective Roger Wedgeworth worked this angle. Wedgeworth formerly worked in the cold case unit and he is often seen on The First 48, a national homicide show on A&E Network. “It was a process of elimination,” Wedgeworth explained to this writer. Green denied owning a .22 weapon and he insisted that he never left the house on the night his wife was killed. When Wedgeworth interviewed the victim’s 14-year-old son Brandon, the kid said his father left out of the house only one time – when he went outside to smoke a cigarette.
Green told Wedgeworth he was alarmed when Angela had not made it home around 11 that same evening. “So I called her phone and she never answered,” Green said. “Afterwards I went to sleep and this is when the police woke me up knocking on the door.”
Green willingly submitted to a polygraph test, which he subsequently failed. The results baffled the detectives. Aware of a polygraph’s inaccuracy the detectives continued to give the husband the benefit of doubt. Plus failure to pass a polygraph is inadmissible in court nor sufficient for police to file criminal charges.
Back To Square One
A search of the vehicle turned up interesting clues. CSI officers discovered a request for child support application sent to Angela Alex from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The letter was postmarked October 6, 2005. CSI dug up another tantalizing clue: a letter showing that Angela Alex had scheduled an appointment with a downtown clinic to abort the child she was pregnant with, but according to medical assistant Hiawatha Duncan, the victim never showed up at the schedule time. Detectives felt confident the woman’s death connected with an extra-marital affair. Why did she want to abort her child? Why did she leave home without explanation? Why did she tell her husband she had another friend in her life?
Follow-Up Investigation: Cell Phone Tracking
Checking Angela’s cell phone records, Tonry noticed she had called one particular number repeatedly throughout the evening before someone gunned her down on November 1st. She made her last call to that same number at 9:13 P.M. Tonry needed to identify the owner of cell number and made his request through the U.S. Marshall’s office in Houston, a discreet location on San Jacinto Street confined to a post office building.
While analyzing evidence results, Tonry received an emergency call from the mother of the dead woman. In a teary voice, the woman explained to Tonry that she had received a letter from another daughter identified as Monica Simon, an inmate serving time in Texas prison for injury to a child. Inmate Monica had wrote a letter to her mother indicating she received a letter from Angela, three days before she was murdered. Angela’s mother further told Tonry that in the letter Monica sent to her, Monica said Angela had said she was pregnant by a guy named Joe Nathan Sanders. Tonry received more interesting news: the mother of the two sisters said Sanders had also fathered a child named “Little Joe” by her daughter Monica. “We’ll look into it,” the detective assured the grieving mother.
Acting on this information, Tonry contacted officials at Texas Department Corrections, requesting Monica Simon be allowed to speak with him over the phone. Monica gave Tonry a rundown on the guy named Joe. “Before I went to prison in 1999, I had a son by Joe Nathan Sanders. His name is ‘Little Joe.’ Joe Sanders has been raising our son every since I’ve been locked up,” Monica told Tonry. She went on to say she received a letter from her sister Angela who said in the letter she was pregnant by Sanders. Angela wrote in her letter that she had threatened to file child support against Sanders. This information piqued Tonry because Angela was pregnant when she was killed. Monica voiced suspicion that her sister’s death involved something connected with Joe Nathan Sanders. “Angela said in the letter that Joe coerced her into having sex with him by telling her that he wouldn’t allow her anymore to see her nephew.”
Describing her sister as a very sweet, easygoing person attached to “Little Joe,” Monica pointed out that Angela
was a bit slow, mental wise and Joe had undoubtedly taken advantage of her.
As a follow-up to their telephone conversation, Monica mailed the secret letter to Tonry. A quick read of the letter convinced the detective of a sexual relationship between Angela and Monica’s ex-boyfriend Joe Sanders.
Yet at this stage in the game he wasn’t sure if Sanders was the father of Angela’s unborn child because she also was in a common-law marriage with Steven Green. And she had been seeing another guy periodically. Angela’s letter to her imprisoned sister offered apologies for having sex with Sanders.
Police Interview Sanders
Detectives contacted Joe Sanders for an interview. For Tonry, his objective was to eliminate the young man or keep him tagged as a suspect. On March 21, 2006, Joe Sanders, age 31, accompanied by his fiancee identified as Tameka Green arrived at Harris County Sheriff Homicide Division located on Lockwood street near Navigation.
Exchanging polite greetings, Tonry spoke privately with Sanders while Tameka waited in conference room. Tonry questioned Sanders about the last time that he saw or talked with Angela Alex or if he’d been sexually involved with the decedent.
Sanders acknowledged Angela may have called him on the day he last heard from her, though he explained he couldn’t remember the exact day or time. He added the woman usually called him asking for gas money because Angela baby-sat his son “Little Joe” after picking him up from school and Tameka would later visit Angela’s home to pick up the child and bring him home.
Joe Nathan Sanders recalled to Tonry that when he heard about Angela’s murder he was working with a construction clean up crew in Port Arthur, Texas, and that he drove from Houston each day to Port Arthur with co-workers riding in his SUV Ford. Sanders provided a list of co-worker names to verify that he usually dropped them off at home upon arrival in Houston from Port Arthur, including the name of the foreman who supervised the crew.
Tonry questioned Sanders about having a sexual relationship with Angela Alex. “Whatever you say about it, stays here in this room,” Tonry coaxed the man. “But we need to know the truth if you been involved with this woman.” Sanders admitted he had a child with Angela’s sister but he would never involve himself sexually with Angela. Sanders said he usually made it home around 10 p.m. or shortly before.
“So if we contact these people you mentioned they can corroborate what you told us already?” Tonry quizzed Sanders. “Yeah,” Sanders answered. But Sanders reminded Tonry the job he had been workingon in Port Arthur no longer existed due to the job being a temporary contract by a larger company. Tonry had Sanders to provide the names
of the co-workers who worked with him in Port Arthur during the month of November in 2005. Names provided by Sanders were nicknames without verifiable addresses, and he only provided possible locations where the former co-workers once lived.
Tameka Stevens, Sanders fiancee, assured Tonry her future husband usually made it home around 10 p.m. or no later than 11 p.m. when he was working construction cleanup in Port Arthur during the month of November 2005.
Although Tameka admitted she occasionally picked “Little Joe” up from Angela’s home after school, she said she didn’t realize Angela was dead until she heard about it from Joe Sanders or one of the victim’s relatives.
To prove himself innocent, Sanders voluntarily agreed to provide a DNA sample. Tonry used a q-tip to swab Sanders mouth to retrieve a saliva sample.
Joe Sanders left the homicide division in pretty good spirits. If police actually knew he was the killer, then why wait four long months before contacting him. But DNA evidence would make or break the case. A swift return proved the ultimate truth: DNA testing of the “beer can” found at the murder scene matched Sanders DNA profile. DNA testing of the unborn child also proved Sanders’ paternity.
“What about the cell phone records?” asked Detective Reynolds of Tonry. All of Angela’s calls to Sanders phone on the night she was killed started at 7 p.m., and the last call that went from Angela’s phone to Sanders phone was logged at 9:13 p.m. Yet another questionable number, a number that was listed on Angela’s cell log, this call number was made to her phone close to 9 p.m. Comparing numbers, the detectives acknowledged this particular number didn’t belong to Sanders.
A follow-up traced the call to a pay phone located outside a SunMart store at 702 Rankin Road near where Angela was found murdered. Detectives were unable to retrieve surveillance tapes of the area where the payphone was located. Who made this suspicious call to Angela’s phone from a payphone?
A configuration of tower signals capable of tracking the approximate location of cell phones in use, gave detectives
more ammunition to target Sanders. “The mobile tracking of both cells when Angela first started calling Sanders,” Tonry stated to fellow detectives, “shows Mr. Sanders phone within the vicinity of Rankin Road where she was killed.”
Cell evidence showed that when Angela started calling Sanders cell around seven o’clock, the tracking of his cell showed him near Baytown, Texas. And from 9 to 9:13 p.m., Sanders phone signal was located in the I-45 Rankin Road area.
Joe Sanders appeared guilty, the detectives speculated. DNA evidence on the “beer can” placed him at the crime scene. Detectives pegged him as a liar when he denied being in contact with Angela Alex, and that he lied about having sexual relationship with her. Plus the cell records tracked his calls from Angela’s phone to within two miles where she was found. Detectives were convinced that Sanders had motive and opportunity.
What detectives needed to cinch the case was a confession. Sanders met with Tonry again on May 24th 2006. Tonry confronted the construction worker with cell phone records. Sanders denied talking with the woman but admitted she may have called his phone to ask for gas money because she usually picked up his son from school. Tonry informed Sanders of DNA proving he was the father of the victim’s unborn child, and the fact that his DNA was found on the beer can found near Angela’s body.
“Your DNA was on the can,” Tonry said, in a heavy tone, “You wasn’t truthful when you previously said you had had no contact with Angela but now your DNA found at the scene and you are the father of her child. DNA don’t lie.” But Sanders held steadfast to his story denying he killed Angela and insisted there must have been a mistake with all the evidence.
Determined to break Sanders, Tonry tried emotional manipulation. Like a patient mentor, Tonry reminded how men cheat on their wives and girlfriend and how things can spin out of control. “Listen Joe,” said Tonry, “you got Angela pregnant. She wanted child support and probably wanted you to leave Tameka. But you didn’t want to jeopardize
Tameka. So things got out of hands and something bad happened out on Rankin Road. Tell us what happen.”
Sanders was on the “hot seat” but he refused to budge. He repeatedly denied committing murder. Unable to break this suspect, Tonry released Sanders but with a warning: that the District Attorney would review the case and decide whether to file capital murder charges.
Joe Sanders left the homicide office a bit nervous but he assured his fiancee Tameka Stevens that if Tonry had an
airtight case with DNA evidence, then why didn’t he arrest him on the spot. He figured no such evidence existed.
Fate proved Sanders wrong. A few days later sheriff detectives arrested him at home. Joe Nathan Sanders was officially charged with the capital murder of Angela Alex and her unborn child.
After numerous delays and pretrial hearings, (ADA) Assistance District AttorneysSunny Mitchell and Kristen Guiney began jury selection in Joe Sanders case on August 27, 2007, at Harris County Criminal Justice Center located downtown Houston on Franklin Street.
In 2012, ADA Guiney was elected as judge of the 179th criminal district court. Defense Don Becker represented Sanders. ADA Sunni opened the state’s case by rehashing intimate details surrounding the victim’s life and how homicide detectives unraveled a mesh of clues connecting the defendant with the crime.
ADA Mitchell faced the jury, then pointed at Sanders, and said, “What you all will learn is, this man’s face was the last face that Angela Alex, saw on a dark, secluded road before she was murdered.”
Defense attorney Becker referred to Sander’s innocence, implying there were other suspects due to the victim’s questionable lifestyle with other men.
Detective Bob Tonry gave lengthy testimony explaining to jurors how Sanders became a suspect when he obtained a letter Angela had wrote before she was murdered, a letter she had sent to her sister in prison. According to Tonry, “Angela told her sister, she had been in a sexual relationship with the defendant and that he was the father of her unborn child.” Under careful questioning by ADA Mitchell, Tonry said, “When Mr. Sanders came in to talk with me on
March 21, 2006, he immediately denied having any sexual relationship with Angela Alex and he denied being near the area where she was killed.”
Tonry further mentioned that he was unable to follow-up on the whereabouts of Sanders co-workers which Sanders said could have corroborated his story that he dropped them off at home on the night the victim was killed. A list of co-workers nicknames provided to Tonry by Sanders was introduced into trial to show Sanders lack of sincerity to help investigators officially identify the young men.
“What about cell phone calls that Angela made to Mr. Sander’s phone on the night she was killed?”, Mitchell queried.
“Although Sanders said he spoke with Angela on the phone, either a day before or on the date she was killed, concerning her need for $40 to buy gas, he maintained that he had not seen the woman in over a week.”
DA Mitchell zeroed in on Sanders’s alibi. “What Mr. Sanders told you when you asked him about his whereabouts on the night Ms.Alex was found murdered?” Tonry responded, “He said he usually left home for work every morning around 6 a.m. to travel to Port Arthur, Texas, where he worked at a construction company.”
Tonry recalled the defendant said that on the night the woman was shot to death that he did not return home until around ten o’clock at night. Investigation showed the deceased woman was discovered on Rankin Road between 10:15 and 10:30 p.m.
Defense attorney Becker questioned Tonry. He intended to show just because his client had a faulty memory it didn’t prove guilt.
He insisted when Tonry allowed a lengthy delay to pass after the murder occurred Sanders may have forgotten specific details, as to exact time when he made it home on November 1st, or “he was either here or there, or who
he was with nor could he not remember the exact last time of the date that he spoke with Angela Alex over the phone.” Becker made a good point, Tonry did not question Sanders until four months later after Angela was murdered. This delay created a memory lapse that only confused the sequence of events connected with the murder.
Harris County Medical Examiner Marissa Feeney testified the two gunshots fired into the back of the victim’s head immediately caused her death.
Mark Powell, a DNA expert with Harris County Medical Examiner Office, said the male fetus taken from the body of the victim, proved with 99.99% probability Sanders was the father, and that three other tested men, including the dead woman’s husband had been excluded as the father of the unborn child. Powell amplified the circumstantial evidence by testifying the beer can found at the murder scene matched the DNA profile of the defendant through saliva.
A surprising discovery of additional DNA testing of the evidence alarmed the prosecutors. At the morgue, the analyst discovered DNA under the fingernails of Angela Alex that failed to match the DNA profile of the same men that were previously tested to prove paternity of the fetus in the woman’s body – nor did it match Joe Sanders!
What worried the prosecutors was the possibility the jury could get confused over the DNA controversy and decide to acquit Sanders. If Sanders was the killer, then who did the unknown DNA belong to, found under Angela’s fingernails? Was there an unknown person the police didn’t know about? Prosecutors sought to explain the mysterious DNA.
DA Kristen Guiney led the expert through a series of questions of the four men that tested negative for the unknown DNA.
(Q) “Was you able to exclude the woman’s husband Steven Green and three
(Q) “Is it common for people to have unknown DNA underneath
(A) “That’s possible.” Powell explained the dynamics behind the mystery
DNA. “There’s been a lab study where only lab members were tested, and in
many cases the DNA of a relative or a child was found under the fingernails of
Defender Becker took Powell on cross-examination. Becker emphasized the importance of DNA that did not match his client, and he attempted to cast doubt about the DNA that tied his client to the crime.
(Q) “You say the defendant’s DNA was found on the “Budweiser can” correct?”
(A) “That’s correct.”
(Q) “Does that tell you when the DNA was put on the “beer can” ?
(A)”No, we could not determine when any DNA was left on the “can.”
(Q) “Could the DNA have been put there the day before–or a week before the
evidence was collected and tested?”
(A) “Yes” that’s possible, Powell shot back.
Sergeant Breck McDaniel, a 12-year veteran with Houston Police Department including eight years in the homicide division, testified to show the tracking of Sander’s cell phone.
McDaniel had been assigned to local U.S. Marshal Office where he served as a technical analyst assisting law enforcement agencies to track cell phone calls to pinpoint approximate location of a phone once a call is logged. Like a professor preparing students for an exam, ADA Mitchell asked McDaniel to technically explain how a tower system monitor the location of a cell phone when someone make a call or when a cell is turned off. “When we experience
dropped calls it is called a ‘hand-off’ because the system keeps track of where your phone is going. The system is like a recorder, it constantly calculates which tower it needs to connect with, to allow a user to make a call.”
DA Mitchell placed Sanders, cell number and Angela Alex’s number on a wide-screen projector for the jury to view. State’s exhibit# 42 identified as Sanders number. Mitchell pressed on, “On November 1, 2005, from 7:P.M til 9::34 P.M., can you tell the jury how many documented phone calls came from the outgoing calls of phone number [Sanders] to phone number, [Alex]?” McDaniel replied, “Twenty-two in all.”
Mitchell moved forward with McDaniel to connect the evidence tying Sanders phone within the area where the victim was killed. “So there were approximately twenty-two calls within two hours?” McDaniel answered, “Yes.”
At this point, DA Mitchell was showing the jury that shortly before the victim was murdered she made twenty-two calls from her cell to Sanders phone. Yet, according to Detective Tonry, when he questioned Sanders if Angela had called him anytime on that day or night on November 1st, he had said there were possibly one call during the day when she called him for gas money.
McDaniel said the evidence also showed that around 7:P.M. on November 1st, Sanders cell phone was in use in the Baytown area. At 7:45 P.M., the cell was in Houston’s Acres Home area. And from 9:P.M til 9:13 P.M., Sanders cell phone signal showed he was near I-45 at Rankin Road, approximately 2.5 miles north of the murder scene. The last
cell track of Sanders phone was logged the next morning around 6:A.M. near his home. To clarify, wireless experts have
said the tower signal that picks up a phone’s location has proved, at times, inconclusive to show which direction a person might be traveling. But the signal can accurately pinpoint approximate location which includes estimated mile range, from one distance to another.
Defense Becker’s cross examination of the cell phone evidence neutralized the effectiveness of tower signals capable of tracking location of a phone when a call is made or intercepted. Becker had noted that the officer’s findings left a “time gap” because he testified Sanders phone, at 9:13 P.M., was detected near I-45 and Rankin Road. But the officer offered no exact location around 10:P.M. or shortly thereafter. Angela Alex‘s body was found approximately 10:15 P.M., and 10:30 P.M., according to witnesses. Becker went on the attack, questioning Sergeant McDaniel about his high-tech findings.
(Q) “Can you, please tell us where Mr.Sanders phone number#(281-914-1522),
was located around 9:45 P.M. on November 1st?”
(A) “At 9:45 P.M.?” “Yes sir”, Becker shot back.
(A) “I don’t know.”
(Q) “Where was the phone at 10:P.M.
(A) “Don’t know.”
(Q) “The person who had that phone, was they out of town at
Surprisingly, McDaniel repeated, “Don’t know.” “Isn’t it true when a person make a call and if the closest tower don’t intercept the call, the call is re-routed to another tower that could be located miles away in a different direction?”
McDaniel replied, “That’s true.”
Becker tried another tactic to undermine the cell evidence. “Sergeant McDaniel, do you agree there’s no evidence the defendant’s phone was ever at the murder scene on Rankin Road on November 1st?”
“I cannot gurantee that–no other than the calls documented on Mr. Sander’s phone is consistent with the calls made from Mrs. Alex phone in the same area where she was found murdered.”
Tameka Stevens, Sanders fiancee, confirmed his alibi that he was home during time the murder happened. Stevens said her husband had worked in Port Arthur November 1st. She explained the last time she saw the victim alive was on the day of the murder when she picked up “Little Joe” from Angela’s house.
Defense Becker asked Stevens, “When Mr. Sanders made it home did he have any scratches or bruises on his
body?” “No, he did not. She confirmed that he made it home around 10:P.M. On cross exam by ADA Mitchell, Tameka denied that she told Detective Tonry that Sanders didn’t make it home until 11:P.M. on the night the murder went down.
Joe Nathan Sanders Testifies
When Joe Sanders mounted the stand, suspense filled the air. Courtroom spectators were eerily quiet as defense Becker, bluntly asked the well-dressed, meek-looking, articulate defendant.
(Q) “Did you kill Angela Alex?”
(A) “No sir, I did not.”
(Q) “Have you ever fought with Mrs. Alex on Rankin Road? And did you own a .22 caliber back on November 1st 2005?”
(A) “No, I have not…and I do not own a weapon.”
Sanders recalled how he began having a discreet sexual relationship with the dead woman, who was the sister of his son’s mother, and how they occasionally met at different places to talk and have sex. He further stated he knew the woman was pregnant but that Angela had not told him the child was his. he insisted if he’d known the child was his that he would have took responsibility.
Becker continued with questioning:
(Q) “Why you lied to Detective Tonry on both occasions about not having a sexual relationship with Angela even when he told you the DNA test showed the baby she was carrying was yours?”
(A) “I didn’t want to reveal the affair and I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with my girlfriend Tameka. I didn’t want to hurt her.”
(Q) “Did Detective Tonry ever ask you if you owned a .22 weapon?” “Or did he ask to search your house for a weapon?”
(A) “No, he did not.”
Sanders testified that he had provided Tonry with the names of the former co-workers that he had been working with in the month of November 2005, co-workers that could have corroborated his story that he didn’t go near Rankin Road because he had to drop them off. At trial the names of Cornel Clay, “Joe Joe”, Francis, Alex, Matt, Roy and Derrick were mentioned by Sanders as the guys who could have backed up his story. Sanders was reminded by ADA that the names
mentioned during trial differed from the names he had given Tonry back in March 2006.
Referring to his client’s discreet relationship with the dead woman, knowing that he had already fathered a child by the dead woman’s sister, Becker asked in a stern voice, “Joe, why you do this?”
Sanders answered, “I don’t know. I love women.”
“I pass the witness.” Becker said.
ADA Mitchell ripped into Sanders on cross-examination to destroy what she perceived as a total fabrication to hoodwink the jury into setting him free. “Mr. Sanders, you have admitted lying to Detective Tonry about your sexual relationship with Angela. Right? And you lied about the last time you saw her before she was murdered; you lied to Tonry when he showed you the cell phone records that Angela had made calls to your phone shortly before she was murdered, and you also lied even when Tonry told you the DNA test proved you to be the father of Angela’s unborn child.”
“That’s true,” Sanders answered in a calm tone.
“Previously you testified Angela would meet you at different places. Is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s correct, the defendant answered. The jury and spectators were captivated as ADA Mitchell bored in to unravel what she characterized as “a web of deceit.”
(Q) “You know Angela had told her sister that you forced her to have sex
(A) “I didn’t know that.”
DA Mitchell honed in on the “beer can” containing Sanders DNA.
“When you met with Tonry twice, you never mentioned having a beer standing outside Angela’s SUV truck on October 30th 2005, nor did you mention that when you gave her back the empty can she had put it into her truck.”
“No, I did not,” Sanders replied.
ADA Mitchell zoomed in on the important cell calls. “The last of many calls that Angela made to your phone on November 1st, the times were 9:01 P.M., 9:04 P.M., and 9:13 P.M. Did you receive those calls?” “Yes I received those calls,” Sanders admitted. Still the defendant insisted he didn’t kill the woman and that he was at home with Tameka Stevens.
After both sides rested, Judge Jeanine Barr optioned the jury to vote not guilty, if the state’s evidence failed to prove guilt, or, to convict the defendant if the evidence proved beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered Angela Alex. Defense Don Becker faced the jury and said, “Joe Sanders is guilty!” Becker’s blunt statement stunned the audience. Sanders even looked bewildered. A moment of intrigue filled the air. Finally Becker broke the suspense. “He’s guilty of lying to the police, cheating on Tameka and lying that he never been involved with Angela Alex. But he’s not guilty of capital murder.”
Becker downplayed the state’s evidence; cell phone records, the beer can, found at the murder scene, including two
inconsistent statements the defendant gave to Detective Tonry. “There’s not a scintilla of evidence that Joe Sanders was near Rankin Road on Novemeber 1, 2005. They say, well, he was close in the area, about a mile or so away where the body was found. Becker attacked what prosecutors considered incriminating statements made by a guilty killer.
“Detective Tonry ambushed Joe Sanders. He calls him up and, say, ‘Hey Joe, where was you on a particular day, four months ago?
“And Sanders would say, ‘Well, I usually go to work at 5:a.m., arriving back home between 10: P.M and 10:30 P.M. Then Tonry responds, that’s fine, I just wanted to know.”
Next the attorney recalled Sanders version about the incriminating beer can found at the scene. Becker admitted that Sanders DNA was found on the container. He explained why.
“Defendant testified of meeting Angela, two days before her death at Cuney Homes Apartments where he stood outside her SUV, sipping a can of Budweiser beer. Once Sanders finished sipping the beer, Becker argued, “He placed the empty can back into her truck.
“How can you,” the attorney implored the jury, “convict a person of capital murder if evidence cannot prove how long the beer can had been inside Angela’s SUV?”
Leaving no stones unturned, Becker characterized Angela Alex lifestyle as promiscuous. “Angela was married and we know she was a cheater on her husband Mr. Green. And we know she fought with her murderer, and if
Sanders had killed her, then why the DNA found under Angela’s fingernails did not match Sanders DNA?”
Becker concluded, “If police would further investigate to determine the identity of the unknown DNA found under Angela’s fingernails, they will find the true killer.”
Pausing for effect, the attorney exhorted, “Joe Sanders did not kill Angela Alex. Find him not guilty of capital murder.”
District Attorney Counters
DA Mitchell offered gratitude to the rapt jury, thanking them for their time and patience to hear a tragic story of a
sweet, loving, easygoing, innocent pregnant woman, who would have given life to a baby boy fathered by Joe Sanders, but in cold blood the child’s father killed him and his mother.
Pointing directly at Sanders, the DA went straight for the kill. “This defendant thought he got away with murder. What he didn’t count on was a hard-working detective refusing to quit. It wasn’t until Detective Tonry discovered the letter Angela wrote to her sister in prison, indicating she was pregnant by Sanders that anyone knew a relationship existed.”
Mitchell recited the defendant’s motive to kill. “When Sanders impregnated Angela, she threatened to expose the affair
if he refused to pay child support. And if this had happened it would have jeopardized Sanders relationship with Tameka Green.”
Mitchell, emboldened by the evidence, challenged the jury to use common sense to convict Sanders. “He lied to Detective Tonry about not having a sexual relationship with Angela Alex; he lied about not talking with her on the cell phone on the night she was killed; he lied to Tonry on two occasions that he had not seen Angela for a while prior to her death. Yet,” Mitchell pointed out, “when Sanders testified he suddenly remembered meeting her two days before she was murdered.”
Using a power-point to zero in on Sanders surprised admission to explain his DNA on the beer can found near the body, the DA mimicked his words. “‘I met Angela two days before she was murdered and while standing outside her
truck she gave me a beer to drink. And once I finished the beer, I gave Angela the empty can back, and she put
it in her truck.’
“Ladies and gentlemen, that story is a cover-up. He had to explain his DNA at the scene,” DA Mitchell
argued. Explaining the mystery of the unknown DNA found under Angela’s hands the DA reminded the jury not to be
misled and that there was only one killer involved with killing Angela Alex, and the killer was in the courtroom.
“The expert testified it’s not unusual for people to have unknown DNA on their body. You heard Sanders testify that in the past he had met Angela at discreet locations. He fooled her into meeting him at an isolated area on Rankin Road, they had argument, and he brutally murdered her. Find him guilty of capital murder.”
Following a short deliberation the jury convicted the defendant of capital murder. As Judge Barr imposed life in prison without parole, the family of Joe Sanders sobbed as he was led away to Texas Department of Corrections in Beaumont Texas.
On April 2, 2009, Texas Criminal Appeals Court affirmed Joe Sanders conviction. Meanwhile last year, the Innocence Project took on Sanders case to find the identity of the unknown DNA found on Angela Alex’s body. At this writing the Innocence Project still investigating the totality of evidence against the defendant.