A native of Amarillo, Texas, born in James Pinkerton Kelly had dropped out of school by age 17, to work as an apprentice butcher. On October 26, 1979, a prowler invaded the home of 30-year-old Sarah Lawrence, slashing her throat and stabbing her 30-odd times with a butcher knife, afterward raping her corpse and inflicting grisly post-mortem mutilations. Detectives followed a trail of footprints to Pinkerton’s house, several blocks away, but he was released for lack of evidence after brief interrogation. Six months later, on April 9, 1980, 25-year-old Sherry Welch, a former beauty queen, was murdered in the back room of an Amarillo furniture store that she managed. Police had no leads in the case, but they were still working on the Lawrence homicide, studying bloody palmprints found on the victim’s furniture. The prints were matched in late summer, and Pinkerton was arrested on September 26, charged with one count of first-degree murder. Convicted of the Lawrence murder eight months later, Pinkerton was sentenced to death on May 30, 1981. Indictments were returned in the Welch case on July 22 of that year, and Pinkerton celebrated the anniversary of his first murder trial with another conviction, drawing his second death sentence on May 13, 1982. Appeals won the killer three stays of execution, once coming within a half-hour of death before the Supreme Court intervened to save his life. A federal appeals court rejected Pinkerton’s bid for a fourth stay, on May 14, 1986, and he was executed by lethal injection the following day.
“Be strong for me,” Pinkerton told his father, Gene Pinkerton, as witnesses entered the execution chamber. “I want you to know I’m at peace with myself and with my God,” Pinkerton said. He recited a prayer to Allah, the supreme being of Islam. “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah. With your praise I ask for forgiveness and I return unto you,” Pinkerton said. “I love you, Dad.”