Meet Gene Wilford Hathorn Jr.- a Texas man who sat on Death Row for over 25 years. That makes it sound like he was eventually executed- he was not. Due to the results of an appeal, he was allowed to accept a plea deal for 3 consecutive life sentences. While that is interesting enough, there are much more bizarre and fascinating details about Gene- including the fact that he might have been literal goldfish food by now, had that appeal been denied.

But first, let's take a look at the night of October 9th, 1984, when Gene, along with his (possible) accomplice, shot and killed three people- including Gene's 14-year-old brother.

Gene's father, Gene Sr (45), step-mother Linda Sue (34) and half-brother Marcus were watching TV in their mobile home in Groveton, Texas when they were shot and killed. The mobile home was then ransacked and items were taken away to make it appear to be a robbery. Gene's friend, James Lee Beathard, was there but may have possibly never entered the home, in fact, there was no physical evidence to put him there. Hairs and cigarette butts that were collected from African Americans were planted on the scene in a further attempt to make the crime appear to have been committed by strangers.

canva/ Trinity County Mugshot
canva/ Trinity County Mugshot

Without any physical evidence, the prosecution relied on the testimony of Gene to put James Lee on death row. Gene would later recant that testimony, saying that James Lee thought they were just there to do a drug deal and that he ran into the woods as soon as Gene fired a shotgun into the home from outside (Gene Sr. was found with window glass embedded in his body). James Lee attempted to appeal based on this revelation, was denied due to a date cut-off, and was executed in 1999 for a crime he likely had very little to do with besides being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is an excerpt from his last statement before he was executed:

I would like to address the State of Texas and specially Joe Price, the District Attorney who put me here. I want to remind Mr. Price of the mistake he made at Gene Hawthorn's trial when he said that Gene Hawthorn was telling the truth at my trial. Mr. Price is a one-eyed hunting dog. He in fact is not a one-eyed hunting dog, and in fact Gene Hawthorn lied at my trial. Everybody knew it. I'm dying tonight based on testimony, that all parties, me, the man who gave the testimony, the prosecutor he used knew it was a lie.

In a sick twist of irony, Gene's appeal was granted and now Gene will likely just die of old age in prison. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Gene was entitled to a new punishment hearing because "jurors at his 1985 trial weren't given adequate instructions and should have been allowed to more thoroughly consider evidence that he was abused as a child." Gene had murdered his family over inheritance money, but the fact that his Dad beat him and shot his dog might have given him some of his criminal tendencies.

Had Gene been executed, he might have become literally fish food. Gene had made an agreement with Chilean/ Danish shock artist Marco Evaristti to use his frozen corpse in an interactive exhibit that would have let participants feed goldfish with pieces of his body. Evaristti other works include Crash, a painting rendered with blood found at crash sites, Helena, an exhibit of functional blenders with live goldfish in them with instructions for viewers to turn them on, and also a dinner in which participants ate meatballs made of the artist's liposuctioned fat.

Gene, now 63, resides in the West Texas Hospital section of the Montford prison in Lubbock, Texas.

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