HOUSTON (CN) – A Houston man prosecutors say admitted to shooting the mother of two of his sons in the head and leaving her body in woods along a Louisiana interstate made his initial appearance Wednesday in a federal courtroom for a kidnapping charge that carries a possible death sentence.
Don Kentrell Gaines, 30, worked at a U.S. Postal Service distribution center in Houston with Gayla Roy, his former girlfriend with whom he fathered two sons, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
Gaines told U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances Stacy during his initial appearance on Wednesday that he has four sons and he is an artist who sells paintings through his company Lift the Culture. He said he makes $500 to $700 per month if he sells two paintings within that time.
He wore a light blue polo shirt, blue jeans and brown suede high-top Converse Chuck Taylor shoes, with shackles around his ankles, waist and wrists.
Gaines leaned his shoulders back and tilted his head to the side as Judge Stacy quickly read his criminal complaint.
U.S. Postal Inspector Sophia Curtis wrote in the complaint that she interviewed Gaines on Sept. 19, six days after Roy’s family reported her missing, and he stated that he had choked Roy in her car near his mother’s house the morning of Sept. 11.
“He stated that he grabbed her and held her too long. Gaines stated that he believed she was dead and he panicked. Gaines said he panicked because he knew that he had a warrant for doing the same thing to another girl,” Curtis wrote in the charging document.
The complaint says Gaines told Curtis that, with Roy unconscious in the passenger seat, he drove Roy’s car to Louisiana and she woke up during the trip.
According to Curtis, Gaines told her he stopped the car on an Interstate 10 access road, walked Roy into some woods and shot her once in the back of the head.
“Gaines specifically stated that he shot her one time and he agreed that he left her in the woods. Investigators asked Gaines if he covered the body and he responded, ‘I should have, but I didn’t,'” Curtis’ affidavit states.
Using the GPS-tracking system in Roy’s car, investigators found her bones and matched them with DNA from her toothbrush that her family gave them, Curtis says.
Prosecutors say Gaines fled to Atlanta in his stepfather’s Toyota Scion SUV after killing Roy and was arrested by police there on Sept. 18 on a warrant out of Harris County, Texas, after Postal Service inspectors were alerted that a grocery store’s surveillance camera had photographed the Scion.
The warrant came from a charge of felony assault of a family member the Harris County District Attorney’s Office filed against Gaines on June 23.
Gaines’ girlfriend, Deneyesia Richards, called police that day and told them Gaines had woken her up playing loud music in her apartment and she asked him to turn it down, Harris County Sheriff’s Officer Timothy Lusk wrote in the June charging document.
Gaines asked Richards to have sex with him, got mad when she refused, started arguing with her, grabbed her by the neck and pulled her to the ground, Lusk wrote.
“The complainant stated that defendant was on top of her, choking her to the degree she could not breath, and telling the complainant he was going to kill her,” Lusk’s affidavit states.
The Harris County complaint says Richards fought Gaines off and he grabbed an unopened Coke can and hit her in the head with it.
Gaines was represented by defense attorneys from the Houston federal public defender’s office at Wednesday’s hearing, but he told Judge Stacy his family planned to hire a private attorney for him.
Stacy told him he should stick with the public defender’s office because it has more resources to defend against his charge of kidnapping resulting in death, which carries a maximum punishment of the death penalty or life in prison.
Legal experts say cases in which death is a possible penalty are very expensive because its takes lots of manpower to fight the charges.
Federal prosecutor John Jocher explained after the hearing why the government did not charge Gaines with murder and kidnapping.
“It’s a kidnapping that results in death and the punishment range is identical to a murder conviction. … And kidnapping is much easier to prove. It fits the facts better,” he said.
Stacy set Gaines’ bond hearing for Nov. 30 at 10 a.m.
The U.S. government has executed just three federal prisoners since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1976 lifted an effective ban on the death penalty imposed by the high court in 1972.
One of them was Timothy McVeigh, who blew up a federal office building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, including eight federal agents.