HOUSTON (AP) _ A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a northeast Texas man condemned for breaking into a rural home, fatally shooting the man who was sleeping there and driving off in his car.
A jury in Sulphur Springs in Hopkins County took seven minutes to convict Joseph Ray Ries of capital murder, then decided he should die for the 1999 slaying of 64-year-old Robert Ratliff.
Ries, 19 at the time of the slaying, argued to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a federal district judge was wrong to deny an earlier appeal on constitutional grounds and that his trial attorneys and an earlier appeals attorney were ineffective.
In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit said it agreed with Ries that his trial lawyer "might have done more to highlight particular portions of Ries' social history in an effort to elicit more sympathy from the jury based on Ries' past."
But the New Orleans-based court said the attorney's actions fell "within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance."
Evidence showed Ries, now 28, had a long history of being physically and sexually abused as a child, that his mother's parental rights had been taken away twice and that he had been in 11 foster homes. As a teenager, records also showed he had molested a stepsister and had stolen at least two cars.
The ruling moves Ries closer to execution although he has no death date. All executions are on an informal hold in Texas and other states while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the method of lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel. A ruling in that case, brought by two Kentucky death row inmates, is expected later this year.
Ries can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the appeals court's findings, released late Thursday.
Authorities identified Ries as the triggerman in the killing of Ratliff, who was shot three times with a small-caliber gun in the bedroom of his home in the small town of Cumby, about 65 miles northeast of Dallas.
Another 19-year-old, Christopher Lee White, also was arrested for his involvement. White was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Both Ries and White were from the Commerce area, about 10 miles north of where Ratliff lived. White already had been wanted by police on a burglary warrant and Ries was being sought for taking Ratliff's pickup truck a week before the killing.
Ries lived with Ratliff months earlier, but the man kicked him out after some items turned up missing.
A week before the killing, authorities believed Ries stole Ratliff's pickup for a trip to San Antonio. Because the truck apparently didn't get good fuel mileage, he and White came back to take his Lincoln Continental. Ratliff wasn't home, so they broke in and stole two rifles, drove the pickup into a pond until it sank, then waited behind a barn until he returned home and went to sleep, according to court records.
They went back inside, where Ratliff was shot, then drove off in his Lincoln. Ratliff's body was found later by a relative.
When he was arrested, Ries gave a videotaped confession to police.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.