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Worse Than Death

The Dallas Nightclub Murders and the Texas Multiple Murder Law

Gary M. Lavergne

Publication Year: 2003

In 1984, a Moroccan national named Abdelkrim Belachheb walked into Iannis Restaurant, a trendy Dallas nightclub, and gunned down seven people. Six died. Despite the fact that the crimes occurred in a state that prides itself on being tough on criminals, the death penalty was not an option for the Belachheb jury. Even though he had committed six murders, and his guilt was never in question (despite his insanity defense), his crimes were not capital murders under 1984 statutes. As a direct result of this crime, during the 1985 regular session the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 8--the “multiple murder” statute--to make serial killing and mass murder capital crimes. Belachheb’s case serves as an excellent example to explore capital punishment and the insanity defense. Furthermore, Belachheb’s easy entry into the United States (despite his violent record in Europe) highlights our contemporary fear over lax immigration screening and subsequent terrorism. The case is unique in that debate usually arises from an execution. Belachheb was given life imprisonment and is currently under maximum security--a fate some would argue is “worse than death.” He is scheduled to have his first parole hearing in 2004, the twentieth anniversary of his crime. “This is a superbly written book about an extraordinary case whose significance ranged from influencing death penalty legislation to directly foreshadowing the types of security lapses that led to September 11th. It is among the best I have read in its genre.”--Bob Brown, ABC news correspondent for 20/20

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Crime and Criminal Justice Series


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pp. iii-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. viii-x

Anyone who knows my wife, Laura, can only be amazed at her patience and tolerance. The evil world of mass murder and serial killing is completely foreign to her interests. And yet, this is the third book on that subject she has proofed and edited. She is an expert writer and editor, who helped to craft a first-rate book. She ...

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Author’s Notes

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pp. xi-xii

This is a work of nonfiction; all of the characters are/were real people and all of the episodes are carefully documented through interviews, official records, sworn statements, or eyewitness testimony. I have tried to make clear those few instances where I have drawn conclusions, made assumptions, or reconstructed dialogue ...

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1 Disconcerting Stares

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pp. 1-12

Bill Parker had just fallen asleep. He had been out to dinner that night and had even had a couple of drinks. The phone rang right after midnight. Many times he had gotten up in the middle of the night to rush off to a murder scene. But this time was different. The dispatcher was excited and at times hard to understand ...

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2 Morocco

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pp. 13-27

There is an area of northwest Africa, between the Atlas and the Rif Ranges called the Maghreb, where at the height of its power and prestige, the mighty Roman Empire discovered it could go no farther. The Atlas Mountains form a diagonal range traversing Morocco from the southwest to the northeast, separating Morocco’s ...

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3 “Pick on me”

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pp. 28-40

According to Interpol Rabat documents, Abdelkrim Belachheb was in Morocco as late as June 21, 1963, when he assaulted and wounded a man in a knife fight. Months later, Interpol Washington has him in Europe at age nineteen. Where he went first and his movements for the next year and a half cannot be established ...

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4 America

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pp. 41-56

The tragedy of September 11, 2001, the terrorist attacks upon New York City and Washington, D.C., focused attention on how visitors of other nations come to the United States. Some of the resulting debate included observations that it was too easy for dangerous people to penetrate American borders. Since that tragedy ...

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5 The North Dallas Nightclub Scene

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pp. 57-74

To one of the waitresses he encountered, Abdelkrim Belachheb was merely a five-foot six-inch man with a wig and crooked teeth.1 To some others, he apparently represented romance from the Mediterranean and mystery from Africa. The frequency of his sexual conquests is as much attributable to his tenacity as to his ...

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6 A Position for Tragedy

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pp. 75-94

Linda Lowe was not one to sit home alone with her two cats. She very much enjoyed patrolling the Dallas nightclub scene to listen to musicians. On different occasions she had been a member of several “all-girl” musical groups. On Tuesday, June 26, 1984, she called her brother Wade and told him that later in the week ...

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7 “Take that . . . ”

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pp. 95-111

The Mike Harris Quartet had been playing soft music since 9 P.M., and by the time midnight came along, they were getting no requests or tips. “Hey, it was a Thursday night,” said Norman, the piano player. They played Duke Ellington’s C Jam Blues before taking a break just after midnight. Sherlyn, the featured singer ...

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8 “I came to kill you.”

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pp. 112-130

As the red taillights of Belachheb’s white station wagon faded and disappeared to the north, seven of his victims lay on Ianni’s floor bleeding to death—or already dead. Terry Rippa was the first to return to the barroom. “And nobody was in the bar at all, and I went down and checked with John and he was conscious, and then ...

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9 “A miracle from God”

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pp. 131-148

As he lay in a hospital bed in stable condition in the intensive care unit at the Dedman Medical Center in Farmer’s Branch, Texas, John McNeill admitted that he “wouldn’t have given ten cents for [his] life even when the ambulance people finally came in. [He] was in incredible pain.” During the ambulance ride he ...

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10 For the State

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pp. 149-163

The genius of the American Constitution is that it was written to protect unpopular people and ideas. Freedom of the press protects unpopular print; freedom of speech protects unpopular speech. Popular ideas seldom need protection. So it is with individuals. Due process, search and seizure limitations, access to legal ...

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11 For the Defense

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pp. 164-181

"You now know what happened at Ianni’s on June 29, 1984, and now the defense is going to tell you why it happened.” So began the defense of Abdelkrim Belachheb.1 Belachheb’s wife, Joanie, was Jackson’s first witness. She began by describing how she and Belachheb first met and how they came to fall in love and marry. She described her husband as a ...

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12 “An altered state of consciousness”

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pp. 182-202

After the defense rested, Norman Kinne lined up witnesses who had dealings with Belachheb and were ready to testify that he was perfectly sane. Oh, he was odd, and in their minds maybe a little crazy, but he was certainly someone who had enough mental capacity to know the difference between right and wrong. The first of the witnesses was ...

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13 For the Jury

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pp. 203-219

From his arrest on June 29, 1984, to the end of the trial, his wife Joanie visited Abdelkrim Belachheb about once a week. During that time, he lost approximately thirty pounds and, since he no longer wore a black wig, his real, graying hair grew out on the sides of his bald head ...

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14 “Dying by littles”

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pp. 220-238

Not long after Abdelkrim Belachheb shot and nearly killed John McNeill, McNeill met with Norman Kinne as the latter prepared for trial. McNeill fully expected that one day he was going to be able to witness Belachheb’s execution. Kinne had the task of telling McNeill that the crime Belachheb had committed ...

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15 Ad Seg

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pp. 239-252

The final “victim” of Abdelkrim Belachheb’s murders was Ianni’s Restaurant and Club. In some ways the establishment once typified the American Dream. Joe Ianni came to the United States from Italy as a toddler, was processed through Ellis Island, and by the age of eight was in Dallas. He and his wife Totsy worked hard ...

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Notes on Sources

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pp. 253-258

In the course of writing this book, I amassed several thousand pages of information and conducted several interviews. It would be pedantic to list all of the sources of information already cited in the endnotes, which is as much a bibliography. Here I will describe only the largest and richest of those sources ...


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pp. 259-270

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414219
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574411676

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Crime and Criminal Justice Series