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Former football star set to die for Houston gay slaying

Former football star set to die for Houston gay slaying

Demarco McCullum still wears a number. But instead of the digits of a football jersey he wore with acclaim as a star quarterback at his Houston high school just more than a decade ago, it's now number 999180 on his white shirt. The distinctive 999 preface identifies him as a Texas death row inmate. And he was set to become number 21 Tuesday night--the 21st Texas inmate executed this year. "I believe in miracles," McCullum, now 30, said recently from a small cage in the visiting area outside death row at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Livingston. He may need one. Set to die for the abduction, robbery, beating, and fatal shooting of a gay man in Houston 10 years ago, McCullum lost a request before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life or grant a reprieve. The U.S. Supreme Court won't review his case. And legal appeals are exhausted, according to McCullum's lawyer. "I realize when I look back, you're young, you go out, you're not mature--which I wasn't--you fail to look beyond the moment," he said, explaining his demeanor when he was 19 and charged with the slaying of Michael Burzinski, 29. "I did not have my eyes on the future." Back in 1994, his future appeared to be on the right track. His football skills earned him a scholarship to Tyler Junior College. He had been named "Mr. Aldine" at north Houston's Aldine High School. Instead, prosecutors said, he and three of his football-playing buddies were looking for easy money and another chapter in an assault, shooting, and robbery spree that summer when they approached Burzinski outside a Houston gay club the night of July 30, 1994. Burzinski, who had moved to Houston from Toledo, Ohio, was beaten and taken away in his own car, was forced to withdraw $400 from an automated bank machine, then was shot in the back of the head. His body was dumped in north Harris County, miles from where he was abducted, and the car was abandoned and torched three blocks from where one of his attackers lived. A reward posted for information in the case prompted a tip to a Crimestoppers phone line. McCullum was arrested the day he was supposed to leave for college. "It was the first time I'd ever been in a courtroom," he said. "When they said, 'The state of Texas versus Demarco McCullum,' I kind of froze." Also arrested were Terrance Perro, Decedrick Gainous, and Christopher Lewis. Gainous, who also was to have played football with McCullum at Tyler Junior College, and Perro received life prison terms. Lewis testified against McCullum and got a 15-year sentence. In a statement defense attorneys argued was coerced by police, McCullum said he shot Burzinski "because that is what everybody said I should do." "I wish my mother had made me stay home that night," he added. "I feel terrible about what happened." From death row he wouldn't say he was innocent but said in response to prosecutors' accusing him of executing Burzinski, "I did not do that, execute that victim." He also disputed accusations that he and his companions were hunting for gays because they believed gays had money and targeted Houston's Montrose neighborhood, known as an area of town frequented by gay men. "That wasn't the case at all," he said. "This guy approached us. The dude was drunk and high." The sobriety of the victim is one point McCullum and the prosecutor at his trial agree on. "I always thought it so unnecessary for him to be killed because chances of him actually being able to identify somebody because of his intoxicated state were pretty negligible," Tommy LeFon, an assistant Harris County district attorney, said Monday. "Things just happened," said McCullum, who grew up in Seminary, Miss., a town of 400 north of Hattiesburg, and moved to Houston in 1990. McCullum was scheduled to be followed to the death chamber 24 hours later by Frederick McWilliams, convicted of fatally shooting a man in Houston while stealing a car.

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