I went to school with this young man..we went to elementary, Kingwood Middle and graduated Kingwood High with him. Hart was a wonderful guy. His parents are wonderful people and still live here in Kingwood. I hate that they have to continually re-live this awful event. The man who killed Hart in cold blood was sentenced to life in prison, but for some reason the legal system gives him a chance at parole every 3 years. Can you imagine as a mother having to deal with this every 3 years, its like ripping the scab off a wound that never heals. Please join me in the fight to keep this murderer behind bars where he belongs. Letters against, Wilkins release can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please reference TDCJ # 00401348. To learn more about the parole process, please visit www.tdcj.state.us
Kindness and caring - 15 years after his violent death, those are the qualities most people remember about Hart Pundt.. It was those same attributes of kindness and caring that ultimately got him killed.
Harts parents, John and Peggy Pundt, still live in the same Kingwood home where Hart spent his childhood years. They describe their only son as a typical teenage boy who liked to tinker with cars and hang out with friends. Hart lettered in track and loved riding bare-back broncos.
Only months after graduating from Kingwood High School in 1984, John David Wilkins, 29 years old at the time, stabbed the 19-year-old college student to death.
Hart and two of his good friends went to the Texas State Technical Institute in Waco, starting in September of 1984; on November 16 of that year, they were at a club and John David Wilkins, for absolutely no reason, stabbed one of Harts friends in the back outside the club, then slashed his other friend who collapsed on the ground, said John Pundt. Hart went over to help him and Wilkins stabbed him in the chest. The stab wound was fatal.
Wilkins, who had a prior criminal history of burglary and aggravated assault, had been drinking heavily on the night of the stabbing.
The evidence showed there was absolutely no provocation, said John Pundt. The guy was drunk, and he was going to kill somebody. It was a completely ruthless, wanton killing for no reason.
A McLennan County jury convicted Wilkins of Harts murder and sentenced him to life in prison in May 1985. But this summer a parole board will once again, for the 9th or so time since his incarceration, discuss whether the now 54-year-old killer should be released.
SENTENCED TO LIFE
As Wilkins whiles away the days behind the walls of the Ellis Unit in Huntsville for the crime he committed, the Pundts serve a life sentence all their own.
Every three years, at least, when Wilkins comes up for a parole hearing they put their lives on hold to round up friends and family members, generating letters to the parole board and following up with endless phone calls to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Victims Services Division in an attempts to influence the decision of parole board members as best they can.
I want the peoples names who are on the board, so I can speak with them directly, but that information is not forthcoming, said John Pundt. It takes a lot of persistence. They would rather you just go away; it would make their life much less complicated.
Peggy Pundt said she fears that once Harts family relents in the campaign to keep Wilkins in prison, his release will be a matter of convenience and her sons killer will be set free.
I dont have any faith that if we dont stay on top of it, theyll vote to keep him in, she said. If theres any sign of disinterest on the part of the victims family theyd be glad to be done with it. We have to make a concerted effort to let them know there are still people who are interested in keeping this man in prison.
Houston Crime Victims Assistance Director Andy Kahan said there is no need to put the Pundts through the emotional ordeal of a possible parole for Wilkins every three years in the first place.
We passed legislation in 2003 that gives the parole board the option of a 5-year set-off upon denial of parole, but that option is barely used, he said. Over the last few years less than five percent of 1st degree convicted murderers received the 5-year set-off.
Kahan called the option of a 5- instead of a 3-year set-off a double-edged sword for the parole board and prison administration.
They want to at least have a carrot dangling in front of the inmates that there is a potential to reward good behavior with being eligible for parole, at least in theory, allowing them to think theres a possibility they could be released, he explained. But from the victims familys perspective this is extremely painful and emotionally grueling to endure the parole process every few years when they could be given at least a 5-year break between hearings. Theres no reason to put families like the Pundts through this revolving door process when we have the means to give them a break.
John Pundt said when Wilkins last came up for parole in August 2007, he specifically pleaded with the parole board to grant a 5-year set-off. This summer, three years later, the Pundts once again find themselves confronted with the possibility that Harts murderer may go free.
JUSTICE FOR CRIMINALS
The Observer attempted to obtain past parole hearing dates from the TDCJ public information office and was provide two different sets of data, claiming Wilkins first parole review occurred in 1991 or 1992, six or seven years after he initially began his life sentence, respectively. Andy Kahan, who also obtained parole data from the TDCJ through the victims services division, was informed that Wilkins first came up for parole in 1989, a mere five years after sentencing. Kahans records match John Pundts recollection of events.
At first we were told that if the jury finds the use of a deadly weapon, Wilkins would not be eligible for parole for 20 years; and the murder weapon was a knife, he said. Then the appeals court came back within two years of sentencing and said it has never been proven that a knife can be a deadly weapon. Therefore Wilkins came up for parole within less than six years from when he started his life sentence. You could have picked me up from the floor - apart from a club youd think a knife is the oldest deadly weapon on the face of the earth.
A letter from the TDCJ Victims Services Division informed the Pundts in April that within four to six months, as the three parole board members pass Wilkins file among each other for review, a decision will again be reached as to his parole. Weeks later, once the board has come to a conclusion, the Pundts will be informed of the outcome, again, by letter.
Every time this comes up theres this anxiety, wanting to make an impact on their decision, said Peggy Pundt. And not only for us, but friends and family who knew Hart. Its an emotional roller coaster. Unfortunately, the people who make the decision dont feel the pain the way we do.
Peggy Pundt feels strongly that Wilkins is still be a threat to society. In all the years since Harts murder he has shown no sign of remorse, she said. TDCJ officials confirmed that there have been disciplinary problems during Wilkins incarceration as well, but were unable to disclose details due to privacy reasons. They did confirm that Wilkins has lost 120 days of good conduct time.
The Pundts are back to letter writing and making phone calls in hopes of stalling Wilkins release. But the letters are becoming more and more sparse, said Peggy Pundt, as people slowly move on with their lives. And while theres a possibility of parole for Wilkins, she said, there is no such thing as parole for Hart.
You never get over it - its like someone took a cannon and shot a hole through your heart. Its always there, she said. Our life changed. The birthdays, the holidays. Friends and family helped us pull through. You have to work through the bitterness.
Kahan said members of the community who feel so inclined are invited to assist the Pundt family in keeping Wilkins behind bars, at least for another three years, but hopefully five this time around.
Any member of the public can voice their opinion one way or the other anytime until the vote takes place, he said.
Letters against, or in favor of, Wilkins release can be e-mailed to email@example.com. Please reference TDCJ # 00401348. To learn more about the parole process, please visit www.tdcj.state.us.
It always amazes me how little time a person can serve in Texas for killing someone.
The child killer we put away for twenty, can be out in 8!!! That was two years ago. So beat a 2 year old to death, don't even do a dime.
And we wonder why this sort of thing happens.