'I’ve reconciled with my god and now I’d like to reconcile with the people that I’ve hurt the most. I think that would be a beautiful thing.'
At 59 Darrington Road, Rosharon, in Texas' Brazoria County, you'll find the The Darrington Unit. It's a maximum-security men's prison that houses just over 1,700 men, almost all of whom have been convicted of the most serious crimes. Among that number is a 39 year-old man named Leo Gordon Little III.
Leo Little really is little. Slightly built and just under 5’6” in height, he’s not exactly a big tough guy in the context of a Texas jail. In fact, he looks more likely to be a bingo caller than a shot caller. But you don’t get put on Death Row for being nice. Then again, you don’t need to be big or tough to pull a trigger...
Little was just 17 years of age when he pulled the trigger that would irreparably changed his and his friend Jose’s lives. Worse than that, the bullets would kill an innocent 22-year-old man and shatter the lives of his friends and family.
On January the 25th 1998, Little and his friend Jose Zavala, as they so often did back then, wanted to score some drugs. A pair of wannabe gangstas, the pair acted and talked tough. Little had immersed himself in gangsta rap culture and would insist friends call him ‘Lil’ Crazy’. He would also brag about being in the infamous Crips gang. Though few bought the story.
Living in a run-down part of San Antonio and with a history of truancy, shoplifting, and drug use, the two pals struck upon a tried and tested - yet effective - way to raise money. Robbery.
On the evening of the 25th, Little and Zavala pulled in at a restaurant just outside of the city. Maggie's Restaurant on San Pedro Avenue, to be exact. Jose went in to use the toilet. As he did so, Leo spotted Jehovah’s Witness minister Christopher Chavez. A perfect target. Around an hour later Chavez was pulling over at the side of the road, 30 miles southeast of San Antonio near the city of La Vernia in Wilson County. On Old Sutherland Springs Road. ‘Lil’ Crazy’ was in the back of the car, pointing a gun at Christopher’s head. Jose had followed in the car behind.
Moments later, Christopher lay in the dirt by the side of the road. Little had shot him twice in the back of the head, execution-style. The two assailants dragged their victim to the far side of the road so he wasn’t visible and fled with around $300 in cash stolen from a bag on Christopher’s backseat. It was, it later transpired, church collection money that the young Chavez had taken for safekeeping.
There’s not a day goes by where I don’t think about what I did and who I did it to'
Somehow though, Christopher wasn’t dead. He would lie in the dirt, flailing around and fighting for his life for a full day before he was discovered. And then spend yet another day in hospital before finally succumbing to his gunshot wounds.
Leo ‘Lil’ Crazy’ Little was now a killer. At just 17 years of age. He was no pretender anymore. He really was a gangsta. So what did he do? Well, him and Jose drove to the house of some friends of Leo’s and the kid bragged about his crime. Bragged, drank beer, smoked weed and played Nintendo.
But Little wasn’t really a gangsta or criminal. He was a punk kid, high on drugs and bravado. One of the girls at the house shopped him to the police and he was immediately arrested. This wasn’t the start of a life of crime. This was it.
Back in the late 1990’s, Texas had no trouble putting 17 year-olds on Death Row. It wasn’t until 2005 that the state outlawed the execution of offenders who were minors at the time of their crime. As such, Little escaped execution seven years after the murder, seeing his sentence reduced to life in prison. He is not eligible for parole until 2038.
So what has Leo Gordon Little III spent his time inside doing? Well, he’s now a man of God. An ordained minister, he reads the Bible, teaches the Bible and gives spiritual guidance to fellow inmates. He also thinks a lot about ‘reconciliation’ with Christopher Chavez’s family…
Before any reconciliation, he may need to seek the family’s forgiveness, though. Will he get ever get it? Perhaps. Perhaps not. That ‘beautiful thing’ may be a way off yet.