Charles Raby says he confessed to protect his girlfriend, Merry Alice Gomez. Some people don’t believe this — as they understand it, Charles had only known Merry Alice for a few weeks when Edna Franklin was murdered. Why would he lie for a woman he barely knew? But it turns out this premise was incorrect. And there’s a lot more to Merry Alice’s story.
A quick listener note: This podcast contains adult language and descriptions of violence.
Merry Alice Gomez: Hello?
Liliana Segura: Hi, Merry Alice?
Merry Alice Gomez: Hi, yes, ma’am.
Liliana Segura: Hi, it’s Liliana again. Just checking back with you.
Merry Alice Gomez: Yes. The pastor said that it would be OK. Do I need to bring anything or —?
Liliana Segura: Yeah, we were just thinking if you’ve got pictures you’d want to share, anything like that would be really great.
Merry Alice Gomez: And maps would be OK?
Liliana Segura: Maps? Absolutely. Anything you want to share, for us, the more the better. It’s so helpful that you’re willing to meet up. We really appreciate it.
Merry Alice Gomez: I’ll never stop. That’s why I’m here. I knew something would come back. I know he’s innocent and I knew his case would come up again. That’s why I never left Houston.
Jordan Smith: In the fall of 2019, we arranged our first meeting with Merry Alice Gomez, Charles Raby’s girlfriend from back in the day. She was with him when he was arrested, just days after Edna Franklin was murdered. And according to Charles, Merry Alice was the reason he confessed to the crime.
We drove to a low-slung office building, just off a state highway northwest of downtown Houston. We were meeting in a space leased by Christ Over Our Life ministries, or COOL: an evangelical group that works with incarcerated people and those in recovery. The motto “Every Prison, Everywhere” was printed on a poster hanging on the wall. Merry Alice is a devout Catholic. But she got involved with COOL because of their work with prisoners.
Merry Alice has spent a lot of time helping out incarcerated people — not just Charles. She helps them wade through the everyday challenges that come with being in prison. She’s a caretaker by nature.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice walked in carrying a bunch of stuff. Poster boards, file folders, and a photo album, which she spread out on a conference table.
She was wearing a white shirt under a pink leather vest and a silver cross fashioned from the word “Jesus” on a chain around her neck. Her long black hair was done in two braids. The first thing we asked her? When and how she and Charles met.
Jordan Smith: This question is important because it’s central to Charles’s claim that he falsely confessed to murder in order to protect her. Remember, Edna Franklin’s daughter, Linda McClain, dismissed the idea that Charles would’ve done this because, as she understood it, he’d only just met Merry Alice weeks before Franklin’s murder in October 1992. But it turns out, that wasn’t true.
Liliana Segura: From The Intercept, I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: I’m Jordan Smith. Welcome back to Murderville, Texas. Episode 7, “Merry Alice.”
Merry Alice Gomez: I’m Merry Alice and I was born here in Houston. I’ve known Charles since about ’89.
Liliana Segura: Charles and Merry Alice have known each other for more than 30 years. They met in 1989 when Merry Alice was a senior in high school. Her older sister’s boyfriend, Ray, was locked up in the Harris County jail. He called home a lot. And he mentioned this guy, 19-year-old Charles Raby, who was in jail for a fight he got into with his mother and stepfather. Ray wanted to know if Merry Alice might want to talk to Charles. At first, she wasn’t interested.
Merry Alice Gomez: He started calling on the phone, early morning phone calls, and she was always asking me to talk to Charles, and I would tell her, “No, I don’t have time. I don’t have time.” I was always on the go, going to school.
I never met anyone that was in jail before. [laughs] I always said I didn’t have time for no jail bird, that’s what I would always say.
Liliana Segura: But Ray told Charles about Merry Alice anyway.
Merry Alice Gomez: He says, “She has a sister,” and he goes, “What does she look like?” And Ray said, he goes, “Well, the best way to describe her is she’s a short Mexican with hair down to her ass.” He said right there, when he said that long hair, he said, “That was it.”
Liliana Segura: Eventually, Merry Alice came around and began talking to Charles on the phone.
Merry Alice Gomez: So then that’s when he asked me at one of the little phone calls — because they didn’t last too long, the phone calls — if I could send a picture. I said, “I don’t have no picture. I don’t take pictures.” So that year, like I said, I was graduating and we took these. So I sent him the one with the white fuzzy and that was it. I think I was 18.
Liliana Segura: Do you remember what he said about the picture?
Merry Alice Gomez: He was in love.
Jordan Smith: It was a classic 1980s high school senior portrait: all soft lighting and big hair, thick gold hoop earrings, shot at a slight angle. But instead of the standard drape across the chest, Merry Alice’s top is fashioned out of something fluffy and white, like a big feathered boa. It gives the portrait an ethereal quality. A few months later, Charles got out of jail and showed up on the porch of her mother’s house.
Merry Alice Gomez: He just looked thin. [laughs] I remember seeing his profile, and I was looking out my sister’s window and I seen him out on the front porch, and then I don’t know, something rose in me. I had to play like I wasn’t interested, and I told my sister — because we were both looking out the window, and he was knocking, like teenagers do. I kept saying, “You go out there. You go out there.” She goes, “No, you go out there. He’s here for you.” I said, “Ugh.”
Jordan Smith: She finally came outside and introduced herself. The two of them sat and talked on the porch. She felt an immediate connection with Charles, but she tried to play it cool.
Merry Alice Gomez: Just came out and, like, “Nice to meet you,” and then we sat on the porch, and I guess I just talked about how long I’d lived there and just kind of introduced ourselves. It wasn’t too long. Right away, he was gone again.
Jordan Smith: Merry Alice said that not long after they met, Charles went back to jail. But he was hardly a criminal mastermind. He and two other dudes had stolen a couple 12-packs of Budweiser. A store clerk said Charles had threatened him with a knife. Then the trio crashed their car trying to get away from the police. Charles was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he would only do about two and a half.
Liliana Segura: This is the crime he was on parole for at the time Franklin was murdered. While he was inside, Charles wrote to Merry Alice every week. But she wasn’t nearly as eager as he was at that point. And she didn’t want to just wait for him to get out.
Merry Alice Gomez: I would tell him, “I’m young. You went back to jail. What am I supposed to do? Wait? You said you wanted to start this with me, now you’re back in.” I had a little argument, and that’s what he kept saying. He kept saying, “Well, if God permits, we will be together. Try and wait for me. I know it’s selfish for me to ask you to wait.”
After that, we continued to write back and forth for the next two-and-a-half years, and then he told me, he promised me 8/10/92, he would come home to me.
Liliana Segura: His release date was August 10, 1992. He promised that on that day, he would be on her front porch. He reiterated this even after Merry Alice got pregnant.
Merry Alice Gomez: That’s what he said in one of his letters, when I told him I was pregnant. He said, “Well, you take the mother, you accept the child.” And that’s why he was ready to accept me being pregnant when he came home.
Liliana Segura: Understandably, Merry Alice had doubts.
Merry Alice Gomez: I said, “He’ll probably forget. He’s going to get out and go be free again and probably not even think about it.” And he was. He was on my porch that day he got out.
Liliana Segura: As promised, it was August 10, 1992.
Merry Alice Gomez: I just felt like we were soulmates. He just came over and sat down and started holding hands like normal, like we were already together. Didn’t even have to say it, make it official or anything.
Liliana Segura: Once Charles was out of prison, he was all-in for Merry Alice. He got a job at Westfield Sandblasting Company. And 12 days later, he showed up to the baby shower at her mother’s house loaded down with gifts.
Merry Alice Gomez: Baby powder, diaper cloths, cloth diapers, baby socks, baby shoes, bottle washer, bottles, baby oil, one of them warming baby plates with the spoon and cup, pacifier, brush and comb, lotion.
Jordan Smith: And then the swing.
Merry Alice Gomez: And the mechanical baby swing. It blew me away. That’s why I said, “It’s too much,” because to me, I guess I’ve been a little tight to spend money. But to me, it was just — like I said, I never seen it. Nobody’s ever done that. And I felt low too because it wasn’t his baby. I said, “This is too much!” He was like, dumped it right there on the coffee table and there you go. That was the opening of the gift.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice posed for a photo, the gifts piled on the coffee table in front of her. She’s got a big smile on her face and is wearing a T-shirt with balloons and the word “Mommy” across the front. Sitting off to her side on the sofa is Charles, in a striped button-down. He’s looking down with a slight smile on his face.
Merry Alice Gomez: He didn’t like taking pictures. He was always turning away. I kept telling him, “Scoot closer,” and he said, “No, you take pictures,” so that’s why we were that far apart.
Jordan Smith: Merry Alice’s son, Christopher, was born in early September 1992. Charles wasn’t there. She had a C-section. But he showed up right after. There are photos of him and Merry Alice in her hospital room. Where he was sitting off to the side at the baby shower, he’s now up close and personal.
Merry Alice Gomez: He came after work one day and said, “I’m going to spend the night even if they don’t let me.” But the nurse came in and she said, “You want me to get a blanket and pillow? Are you staying? OK,” and she went and got it.
I always told them that he served me like Jesus did, served his apostles. He gave me a rocking chair. Never had a man to bring me a chair. He would wash my feet and put lotion on them knowing I couldn’t bend down. And my son had colic for three days straight, and there he was, just holding him and rocking him.
Jordan Smith: He was gentle with Chris?
Merry Alice Gomez: Yes. Like a father, like I said.
Jordan Smith: Merry Alice says her mother fell in love with Charles after seeing how devoted he was to her daughter.
Merry Alice Gomez: She saw how he was with me and my son. She saw how he was with me when I was big and pregnant. Like I said, around us, around my house, Charles was something we never seen. The unconditional love that he showed towards us, towards me.
Liliana Segura: Charles had never seen this kind of love either. His father, Charles Elvis Raby, left his mom when he was just a baby. Charles Elvis had his share of run-ins with the law too. Most recently, he was sentenced to 60 years for aggravated robbery.
We wrote to him in prison, early on in our reporting. In March 2020, he wrote back and said that he regretted not being there for Charles when he was a kid. “I was not a very good person back then and I abandoned all my responsibility as a father to Charles,” he wrote.
Jordan Smith: After Christopher was born, Charles and Merry Alice were pretty much inseparable. He drew a picture that Merry Alice hung behind Christopher’s crib. You can see it in the background of one of the photos she brought to our first interview.
Merry Alice Gomez: See, this is the drawing that he had, so I always kept it hung over his crib.
Jordan Smith: What is this?
Merry Alice Gomez: A drawing of a rose with my name on top, and then the middle heart says “Christopher, Little C,” and then the bottom heart says “Charles, Big C.”
Jordan Smith: One day, Charles announced that Bobby Hebb’s 1966 hit “Sunny” was Christopher’s song.
[Excerpt of “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb plays]
Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain
Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain
Now the dark days are done, and the bright days are here
My Sunny one shines so sincere
Sunny one so true, I love you
Jordan Smith: Merry Alice still gets emotional when she hears it. In October 1992, she asked Charles to marry her. “One day,” he told her.
Liliana Segura: They ended up having a future together — just not the one they were planning.
[“Sunny” continues playing]
You gave to me your all and all
And now I feel 10 feet tall
Sunny once so true, I love you
Liliana Segura: Right when it looked like they had their lives together ahead of them, Edna Franklin was murdered on October 15, 1992. And Franklin’s grandsons, Eric Benge and Lee Rose, quickly named Charles as a suspect.
The cops jumped on this and spent the next few days running around Houston looking for him. They went everywhere Charles was known to spend time: his mother’s place and then Merry Alice’s place. They might’ve caught up with him there, but his mom called, giving him the heads up. He went out the back door just before the cops arrived. This happened on Friday, October 16 — not even 24 hours after the murder.
Jordan Smith: By Sunday afternoon, Charles, Merry Alice, and baby Christopher were together again, at Charles’s mother’s boyfriend’s house on Reid Street, just blocks away from Franklin’s place. They sat on the porch and talked. Merry Alice remembers it was a lovely evening; breezy.
They decided Charles would turn himself in the next morning. They held hands. That’s when she asked him to marry her. As it turned out, they both had marriage on the mind. That same day, Charles had asked his aunt, Charlotte, “How do you go about marrying someone?” Charlotte actually told the cops about that conversation. But as with everything else that didn’t fit their chosen narrative, it appears they never wondered: Why would a man facing a murder charge be more concerned with the mechanics of marriage than with getting the hell out of town? It’s a small detail, but a curious one.
Liliana Segura: As Merry Alice would later explain to Charles’s attorney, Sarah Frazier, that night they “made love” for the first time. The next morning, before Charles headed out for the police station, the cops showed up at the Reid Street house. They put Charles in one car and Merry Alice and Christopher in another. According to Charles, he thought they were taking Merry Alice home.
It was only when he heard Christopher crying at the police station that he realized they had been brought downtown. And, according to Charles, this is what made him ultimately confess. He wanted to get them out of there. He didn’t want Christopher to grow up as he had: in and out of foster care.
Jordan Smith: He had good reason for concern. Merry Alice recalled being threatened by one of the investigators, Sgt. Wayne Wendel. He said that police could arrest her and take her baby away.
Merry Alice Gomez: Wendel said, “Ma’am,” he goes, “You know we can get you for aiding and abetting and take your son to foster care?” And I said, “You know what?” I said, “My female family members will care for my son.” I said, “I will rot in this place until he comes home,” I said, “because he did not do it.”
Jordan Smith: According to Merry Alice, she didn’t realize that Charles had confessed until Wendel told her.
Merry Alice Gomez: Wendel helped me to get my stuff and went and got in his car, and I said, “When is Charles coming home?” And he said, “Ma’am, he signed a confession.” And I said, “What?”
Liliana Segura: A couple days later, Merry Alice went to visit Charles at the Harris County jail.
Merry Alice Gomez: He said, “Well, they told me they were going to put you — you know, lock you up,” and I said, “I didn’t care, man.” I said, “My God.” He laid his life down. The courts can’t see he did it out of love.
Liliana Segura: By the time Charles was put on trial in the summer of 1994, Merry Alice was pregnant with her second child.
Jordan Smith: Let’s take a moment to look back on Charles’s trial. It was a shit show. There was no physical evidence linking him to the murder. And the state hid forensic evidence that undercut their theory of the crime.
Charles’s lawyers, Felix Cantu and Michael Fosher, failed to object to all kinds of testimony. And then, after the state rested its case, they decided not to call any witnesses. Instead, in their closing arguments, they conceded Charles’s guilt.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice was called as a witness by the state. The prosecutor, Roberto Gutierrez, never talked to her before the trial. And the first time she saw him, in court, he pressed her about whether Charles had ever confessed to her.
Merry Alice Gomez: I said, “I’m not saying anything.” And he goes, “But look, look. You want to look at the pictures? Look, look.” And he laid them all on that thing up front, and I just turned away. I could see some images from the corner of my eye.
Liliana Segura: The pictures she’s talking about are the crime scene photos from the murder. We’ve looked at them, and they’re pretty graphic and upsetting.
Ideally, a lawyer would prepare their witness so that they know what to expect when they testify and feel comfortable on the stand. This is the exact opposite of that. It almost seemed like Gutierrez was trying to scare her — and shake her confidence in Charles.
Jordan Smith: Ultimately, her testimony was brief. It started with what should’ve been a straightforward line of questioning by Gutierrez. But it ended up being really awkward. We got a couple actors to read it for you.
Robert Gutierrez (Actor): Do you recall whether or not back in October of 1992, how long it was you had known Mr. Raby?
Merry Alice Gomez (Actor): I met him in November of ’92.
Robert Gutierrez (Actor): When?
Merry Alice Gomez (Actor): November ’92.
Robert Gutierrez (Actor): November of ’92? Well, did you meet him before or after he was arrested?
Merry Alice Gomez (Actor): Before.
Robert Gutierrez (Actor): How many months before he was arrested on this case did you meet him?
Merry Alice Gomez (Actor): Can you repeat the question?
Robert Gutierrez (Actor): Sure. Do you agree with the fact that as of the day he was arrested … that you had known him for about two months?
Merry Alice Gomez (Actor): Yes.
Jordan Smith: Two months. This obviously isn’t true. Merry Alice met Charles in 1989, not 1992. Keep that in mind. We’ll get back to it in a second.
The rest of the testimony was pretty pointless, unless the point was to undercut the idea that Merry Alice and Charles were in a meaningful relationship — one strong enough that he would confess to murder in order to protect her.
Gutierrez also asked her about being pregnant. Was she carrying Charles’s kid? No, she said. What about her other kid, Christopher? Was that Charles’s baby? No. Again, the line of questions seemed designed not only to shame Merry Alice, but also to emphasize that her relationship with Charles couldn’t have been all that serious.
Liliana Segura: All of this presented Charles’s lawyers with an opportunity to set the record straight when it came time to cross-examine Merry Alice. Instead, they asked no questions at all — which brings us back to the weird exchange between Gutierrez and Merry Alice about when she’d met Charles.
According to Merry Alice, she was thrown off by that question because of instructions given to her by Felix Cantu, Charles’s lead attorney. He didn’t want the jury to know that she’d met Charles while he was in jail back in 1989. Because it would make Charles look bad.
Merry Alice Gomez: Mr. Cantu, he did tell me, “You don’t want to tell them that you met him while he was in jail because that’d just put doubt in the jury’s mind.” That’s what he told me. So I said, “OK.” He goes, “Just tell them that you met him at his grandmother’s at a dinner or something, after church or something.”
Jordan Smith: But is that true?
Merry Alice Gomez: Mm-mmm [negative]. And then he gave me a date —
Jordan Smith: So he was basically suggesting you make something up?
Merry Alice Gomez: And then he gave me a date and everything. That’s why I even got confused with the dates.
Liliana Segura: We asked Cantu about this. In an email, he wrote, “I never asked Ms. Gomez to lie on the witness stand.” He said he just didn’t want her to “volunteer” that she and Charles had met while Charles was locked up on aggravated robbery charges.
It’s understandable that a defense attorney wouldn’t want something like that brought in. But the truth is that Merry Alice met Charles in 1989, when he was in jail on different charges. And whether he meant to or not, Cantu put her in a really awkward and pretty stressful position.
Liliana Segura: Did you think that Charles’s lawyers thought he was guilty?
Merry Alice Gomez: Mm-hmm. He was — didn’t prepare, didn’t investigate, didn’t do anything, didn’t talk to anybody. I would call his aunt and say, “Has his lawyer called you?” “No.” “Has his lawyer called you?” “No.” “Anything?” “No.”
Jordan Smith: Cantu told us he didn’t recall exactly what he or his co-counsel, Michael Fosher, did to reach out to Charles’s family. But he also said they never reached out to him.
In fairness to Cantu, he did call Merry Alice and her mother, Aurora, as witnesses later on, during the sentencing phase of the trial. So they had a chance to describe how Charles was a loving and supportive boyfriend.
On cross-examination, Gutierrez asked Aurora about her interactions with Charles before the murder. “Now, at the time that Charles was in your home, he gave you no indication that he was going to kill anybody?” he asked. No, she replied. Well, knowing what she knew now, would she be comfortable having Charles in her home? “Well, I really don’t know,” she said, “because I’m not sure if he did it or not.”
Aurora might still have had doubts, but the jurors had already convicted Charles, and in June 1994, they sentenced him to death. Still, Merry Alice stood by Charles at great personal cost.
Merry Alice Gomez: All my neighbors quit talking to me. I’ve had threats. I had phone calls. I had things thrown on my porch. “Quit helping him or else.”
Jordan Smith: This is in part why she felt so vindicated by the news that DNA had been recovered from under Franklin’s fingernails — DNA that didn’t match Charles.
When the Houston Chronicle wrote a story about it in the summer of 2009, she carried a copy of it with her everywhere. She wanted the whole world to know.
Merry Alice: I carried a clear bag because I’m not your girly type, pretty purse like that. That newspaper, I carried it facing out. I went to church, I went everywhere with it facing out.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice carried a clear plastic purse so people could see the headline: “Inmate’s case puts HPD crime lab back in spotlight.” The article had some choice quotes from Charles’s attorney, Sarah Frazier. “Trying to pretend that Mr. Raby’s trial was at all legitimate is becoming more and more strained,” she said. “He clearly is entitled to a new trial after all this time.”
Of course, as we’ve previously discussed, the DNA evidence wasn’t enough to exonerate Charles. But from the first time we met Merry Alice, it was clear she was not giving up.
Jordan Smith: You feel confident he’s going to get out.
Merry Alice Gomez: Mm-hmm. I can’t think no other way. I serve an awesome God, and Charles is still alive. I believe that. That’s what I hold onto.
Liliana Segura: I guess, just for the record, we’re here at a McDonald’s on — what is this neighborhood?
Merry Alice Gomez: North Lane and I-45.
Liliana Segura: The next time we saw Merry Alice was in November 2019. We met her at a McDonald’s and talked near the play area as Christmas music played through the speakers. She said she’d recently told her family that she planned to be more public in advocating for Charles.
Merry Alice Gomez: I did a little presentation in front of my family Saturday, and they said they would be supportive of me.
Jordan Smith: We hoped we’d be able to meet members of her family, including her mom. And we assumed we’d have plenty of time to do this.
But then: pandemic.
It ended up being months before we’d catch up with Merry Alice again. We finally got her on the phone in May 2020. Like so many others, she’d struggled during the early phases of the pandemic. But she was also really on the ball. She’s worked in health care for years, taking care of elderly dementia patients.
Merry Alice Gomez: I guess early March I started wearing my face masks. At that time, I just went to storage and pulled out my little sewing machine. I said, “God, I want to be a part of that.” So I started making face masks. My daughter is a foreman at the Port of Houston. And so she wore one of my masks, and next thing you know, all the guys wanted one.
Jordan Smith: Where many people were upset when Texas shut down prison visits, Merry Alice was relieved. She felt like Charles would be better protected from the virus that way.
Merry Alice Gomez: The last time that I saw him, I think it was February. I told him, I said, “I will not be surprised if they shut this place down.” I said, “That would be the best thing. They need to stop visits.” And sure enough, the next week, that very next Monday or whatever, no more visits.
Jordan Smith: But she also acknowledged feeling really depressed as the pandemic set in. And she relied on Charles for support. He kept her motivated.
Merry Alice Gomez: I went three days without leaving the bed, literally. I would talk to Charles, and I told him, “Nothing’s the same. Nothing’s the same. And this is not the same, and this is not the same.” And that’s when he said, “Get ahold of yourself.”
He’s always looked out for my best interests, all the time, no matter what. There’s an article on my refrigerator that he sent me, and it’s about what herbs to start cooking with that will boost your immune system.
Liliana Segura: The next time we talked to her was in late June. Houston was getting hit hard by Covid.
Liliana Segura: Hey, Merry Alice.
Merry Alice Gomez: Hello, how are you?
Liliana: OK, how are you?
Liliana Segura: Things were getting so bad all around her, it was hard to keep up. Earlier in the month, she’d gotten a letter that shocked her. It was from Charles’s dad, Charles Elvis.
In recent years, Merry Alice had been trying to help facilitate a relationship between him and his son. It wasn’t easy, especially with both of them in prison. Now, Charles Elvis was writing her to say that he was sick with Covid.
Merry Alice Gomez: I literally fell to my knees.
It just says, “Hey Merry Alice I have to keep this short. Now I tested positive with the virus and I’ve never been sicker in my entire life and so far I’m not getting any better.”
“I can’t really tell you much because I really don’t know what’s happening with me. I’m good with our Lord but maybe a prayer wouldn’t hurt.”
Liliana Segura: Charles Elvis would eventually recover. But we could tell Merry Alice was pretty stressed out. She was trying to keep herself safe, keep her elderly patients safe, tend to her family’s needs, and to Charles’s needs.
Merry Alice Gomez: I’ve gone to church. Sunday, I went for the first time, last Sunday. There was distance, and people had masks on. I just needed to get back to church.
Liliana Segura: By August 2020, the virus had made it to death row. And despite the ongoing pandemic, the state of Texas had decided to carry out an execution.
ABC 13 (News Anchor): Here are some of the big stories we’re following today. In Huntsville, a man is scheduled to be executed tonight. Billy Wardlow shot and killed an 82-year-old man in northeast Texas during a 1993 robbery when he was 20. Wardlow’s execution will be the first during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice was feeling burnt out and even more vulnerable. So that execution hit her harder than others had over the years. She told us Charles was struggling too.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice, how’s Charles doing?
Merry Alice Gomez: Well, nervous, scared. Finally it’s gotten into death row, the virus. So I don’t know, I don’t know. He hardly doesn’t write me. I don’t know if he was going through a bout of depression, I don’t know what’s going on. So he just tells me, “I’ve been sleeping a lot, way too much. Sleeping a lot, way too much. I don’t want to do nothing, I don’t want to work out, I don’t want to.” I say, “Yeah, I’m feeling the same way right now.”
Jordan Smith: There was also a growing tension in their relationship. Charles always had tasks for Merry Alice related to his case. He was always asking her to make copies of things that he wanted to be sure his lawyers saw, things he thought would help his appeals. This was going on long before the pandemic. And when it hit, he didn’t stop. She was getting increasingly frustrated with him about it.
Merry Alice Gomez: He’s sending me a bunch of stuff. It’s getting overwhelming, but he says, “It’s got to get done, it’s got to get done.” So that makes me feel good because he trusts me 100 percent. But other than that, we don’t talk about the future, we don’t talk about anything other than the case.
Jordan Smith: Part of the problem was that Charles seemed not to understand how much the outside world had changed — because of the pandemic, but also in general since the early 1990s. For example, at one point Merry Alice sent him a bunch of things she’d printed out for him — copies of case-related photos and documents — because he wanted to see how they looked. But instead of sending them back to her so she could scan and email them to his lawyers, he mailed them directly to the lawyers — to their office.
Merry Alice Gomez: And now, I said, “Why did you do that? Send them back to me and I scan them and I’ll send them to them, email.” Oh, he didn’t trust that. He didn’t trust that they were going to come out with the same color, the same texture, and all that. And I said, “Why did you do that? They went to the office. Nobody’s in their office, Charles.”
Liliana Segura: They were losing patience with one another. Charles was nitpicking about the copies. Merry Alice was pushing back, telling him she couldn’t spend all her time at Office Depot. They seemed to be having the same argument over and over again.
Merry Alice Gomez: It’s almost like dealing with one of my patients, having to repeat myself and repeat. And that’s a lot. That’s a lot, a lot of times.
And like I said, I’m getting older and trying to take care of myself now, looking for the next 10 years: How am I going to take care of myself? And I got to think some more, and just something in my brain wore out of thinking for other people.
Jordan Smith: It was clear that Merry Alice was starting to reevaluate things in her life. She had always put others first. Maybe it was time to put herself first. She bought herself a leather reclining chair. As a treat, she told us.
Liliana Segura: And she bought something else she told us she’d wanted her whole life.
Merry Alice Gomez: I finally went and bought me a gun. [laughs]
Liliana Segura: A gun?
Merry Alice Gomez: Mm-hmm. Nobody could believe it, but I said, “You know what, y’all don’t know me — that I wanted one forever.” I’ve always wanted to have one. And so I’ve been practicing, I’m real good.
Jordan Smith: Where have you been going to shoot the gun? What range you been going to?
Merry Alice: This one off of 45. People are nice, and I just forget the world when I’m in there. It takes me somewhere else. Gives me peace.
Liliana Segura: She was dreaming about buying a piece of property and a house — just getting out of the city.
Jordan Smith: Where would you want to have property if you could? Where would you want to go?
Merry Alice Gomez: Well, I don’t know. Probably, I guess between Humble and Splendor, maybe.
Jordan Smith: So you wouldn’t go very far.
Merry Alice Gomez: No, I couldn’t do that right now. Like I said, number one, because of Charles, I can’t go too far. I’m always going to stay right here because of that.
Liliana Segura: We talked to Merry Alice again as the pandemic was nearing the one-year mark. She was still taking care of her elderly patients. She was also trying to help various folks she knows in prison to secure their stimulus checks.
Jordan Smith: She’d lost two loved ones to Covid, she told us. And two of her uncles, down in Mexico, had died suddenly in tragic circumstances. She’d bought a used car and was still thinking about buying some land outside of town.
Jordan Smith: Have you talked to Charles recently?
Merry Alice Gomez: Not much. I’m kind of upset with him. A big old misunderstanding. It was strange. He just didn’t understand that everything was shut down, couldn’t do nothing. I said, “I can’t even get ink unless I order it, Charles, for my printer.” Then he didn’t like the way my prints were coming out. “They don’t look good” and “They’re not clear enough.” I said, “Whoa, wait a minute. I bought this printer to make T-shirts, not to be printing you exhibits.” He’s like, “Oh, that.” A big old mess. I wasn’t doing it fast enough, I guess. He just started blowing up on me like I never imagined he would.
Jordan Smith: He was bickering with her again about making copies. The same old problem. But as Merry Alice went on, it started to feel like things were escalating. It wasn’t just about the copies.
Liliana Segura: Merry Alice, can I go back to something you said? You said something about how Charles exploded at you in a way that you never thought he would. What exactly happened there?
Merry Alice Gomez: Well, I’ve always confided in him, told him everything. We talk. He’s the only person in the whole world that I could trust. And little by little, he just started throwing things in my face. I’m like, “Whoa.” I said, “I thought that was confident. I thought that was just something I talked to you about, and you’re going to bring that up now?” Just everything he was holding, everything against me.
He even mentioned one time because I told him, “You have not and cannot earn to speak to me this way.” He wrote back, and he says, “I think I earned the right to speak to you this way the day I signed that paper.” And to me, that cut my heart strings completely.
Jordan Smith: Signed what paper?
Merry Alice Gomez: I guess that false confession.
Jordan Smith: Oh.
Liliana Segura: This was a devastating thing for Merry Alice to hear. Charles was basically holding her responsible for what had become of his life. It wasn’t fair. And it was cruel.
Charles and Merry Alice are on far better footing now. But this was a real low point in their relationship because, as Merry Alice saw it, it was actually Charles who didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.
They’d talked about getting married and had planned a life together. She had dreams of becoming a translator. Charles was going to stay home and take care of Christopher. And then he signed the confession.
Merry Alice Gomez: I told him, I said, “I was supposed to be a translator. You were supposed to stay home with Chris.” I wanted to be a translator for Mexico and France. I wanted to speak French and Spanish. That’s what I wanted to do. We had it all planned out. Why he signed it, I don’t know why. He said he did it for me; he said he did it for my son. I told him, I said, “I would’ve fought.” It’s hard to say, but 28 and a half years later, I’m still shedding tears over him.
Jordan Smith: Next time on Murderville, Texas: “Memories.”
Karianne Wright: Just know that if you’re beating down a path to try and prove this man’s innocent, you are wrong. You are wrong.
Jeff Page: I really connected with him because I felt like, if he only had a chance, maybe he could do better. But in the environment he lived in, I said, “He really doesn’t have a chance.” And it was very sad.
James Jordan: When you got somebody you’re getting ready to juice up on that gurney, why wouldn’t you want to know the truth?
Liliana Segura: Murderville, Texas is a production of The Intercept and First Look Media.
Andrea Jones is our story editor. Julia Scott is senior producer. Truc Nguyen is our podcast fellow. Laura Flynn is supervising producer. Fact-checking by Meerie Jesuthasan. Special thanks to Jack D’Isidoro and Holly DeMuth for additional production assistance. Voice acting on this episode by Vincent Thomas and Edie Salas-Miller.
Our show was mixed by Rick Kwan, with original music by Zach Young. Legal review by David Bralow.
Executive producers are Roger Hodge and Christy Gressman. For The Intercept, Betsy Reed is the editor-in-chief.
I’m Liliana Segura.
Jordan Smith: And I’m Jordan Smith.
You can read show transcripts and see photos at theintercept.com/murderville. You can also follow us on Twitter: @lilianasegura and @chronic_jordan.
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Thanks, so much, for listening.