Rachel Nicole Pittman, a Redwater, Texas, teen who pleaded guilty last month to the 2011 murders of a mother and her two young children, planned and carefully concealed her crimes.
Preparing to Kill
Pittman, 18, secreted a four- to five-inch, wooden-handled kitchen knife in the waistband of her shorts and carried a two liter soda bottle filled with gasoline with her when she walked a short distance from her home on Farm to Market Road 991 to the house where Amanda Doss, 34, lived with her two children, Guinevere Doss, 11, and Texas Johnson, 8, according to Bowie County Sheriff’s Office reports used to create the following account.
It was about 3 a.m., May 11, 2011, when Doss answered Pittman’s knock and invited her inside, as she’d apparently done many times before. Pittman told investigators she often visited Doss and had been a baby sitter to her children. According to Pittman’s statement, she and Doss talked for a time before Pittman rose and moved toward the door, as if to leave.
Instead of heading home, Pittman fatally attacked Doss with the kitchen knife and used it to murder Guinevere and Texas as well. After killing the family, Pittman retrieved the plastic, gasoline-filled bottle she’d left outside Doss’s house, poured gas on the bodies and set the victims on fire with a lighter she’d brought for that purpose. As the blaze began to spread, Pittman fled through the same rear door she’d entered, “...and jumped the fence as Glen and Wanda Prewett were pulling up,” states an Aug. 17, 2011, report penned by BCSO Investigator Robby McCarver.
The Prewetts, who lived just a short distance from their daughter and grandchildren, arrived shortly before 5 a.m., responding to a disturbing call she answered from Guinivere minutes before. Wanda Prewett heard noises in the background and shouts of, “Mommy, mommy,” from Guinevere before the line went dead.
As the Prewetts tried in vain to save their slain loved ones, suffering severe burns in the process, Pittman returned to her home and cleaned up. The Prewetts were able to pull only Guinevere’s body from the house. Texas’ and Doss’ bodies were recovered the following day from the rubble of the family’s fire-razed home.
Pittman told McCarver that she incinerated her clothing and shoes in a burn pile behind her mother’s home after washing up in a bathroom in her own home. Tests performed on surfaces in Pittman’s bathroom following her August 2011 confession confirmed the presence of blood and support Pittman’s account.
The day after the killings, Pittman broke the blade of the murder weapon into about 20 pieces and scattered the metal scraps in the woods behind her house. She burned the knife’s wooden handle in the same pile she used to destroy her clothing.
Investigators were unable to recover any remnants of Pittman’s shoes, her clothing or the knife handle.
“The metal shank underneath would not burn and she could not cut it into pieces as she had done the blade,” McCarver stated. “She said that she took the metal piece and buried it near a log in the woods near her home.”
A week after the murders, Pittman returned with soap and water to the crime scene under cover of darkness. Pittman cleaned the fence rail she had jumped the week before.
Pittman told McCarver that she returned to sanitize the fence because she worried blood from a cut she got during the stabbings might be discovered on the fence, allowing authorities to identify her as the family’s killer. Investigators photographed the scar left on Pittman’s left forearm as well as one on a knuckle she also identified as a reminder of her murderous night in Doss’ house.
McCarver, who took Pittman’s statement, and Justice of the Peace Nancy Talley testified at a pretrial hearing that Pittman’s demeanor was calm and matter-of-fact the night she turned herself in to authorities.
A note in documents chronicling Pittman’s Aug. 12, 2011, confession indicates that the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office received a CrimeStoppers tip from a California phone number June 14, 2011, about a month after the murders, identifying Pittman as the killer. The caller provided details similar to those Pittman gave during her confession but the tip wasn’t considered a high priority lead.
Until Pittman’s mother, Renee Pettigrew, contacted Bowie County Sheriff James Prince on the evening of Aug. 12, 2011, it appeared the investigation into the triple murders had been stymied. Court documents reflect that BCSO and Texas Rangers followed up on dozens of leads and spoke to Doss’s family, friends, ex-boyfriends and ex-husbands. One by one they were eliminated as suspects.
A reward leading to an arrest in the case grew to more than $140,000 as citizens and businesses pledged money in hope of bringing a brutal killer to justice.
“She said, ‘I killed Amanda,’” Sheriff James Prince testified at a pretrial hearing.
Prince met Pettigrew and Pittman in a bank parking lot in the evening of Aug. 12, 2011, after getting a call from an hysterical Pettigrew. Prince read Pittman her rights and she and her mother rode together in Prince’s pickup to the Bi-State Justice Building in downtown Texarkana. Pittman held her Bible.
Prior to sitting down with Talley for a warning of her constitutional rights in an office at the Bi-State, Pittman was allowed to speak to her parents. Rachel Pittman ignored pleas from her father, Howard Pittman, to stay silent and ask for a lawyer.
“Rachel Pittman stated that she did not want her father, his attorney, or her mother in the room,” documents state. “She indicated that she wanted to tell the truth and everything that happened.”
Motive and Mental Illness
Pittman told McCarver she killed because she believed it was what an adult friend wanted her to do.
The woman had moved to another state five or six months before the murders. The woman, in her mid-thirties, had once lived with Pittman’s grandmother in a house near Pittman’s and Doss’ on FM 991. The woman had also lived with her boyfriend in a rental house in the same neighborhood.
Pittman had a close relationship with the woman, who told investigators she thought of Pittman as a little sister and that she and Pittman often spent time together at Doss’ home.
Pittman told McCarver she wanted to wait to kill Doss on a night when the children were not home, but that her perception of her friend’s impatience for her to act led to the murders of all three victims.
Reports from experts concerning Pittman’s mental state describe Pittman as a teen descending into psychosis and of suffering from the onset of symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.
Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle and Longview, Texas, attorney Tonda Curry, who represented Pittman along with Longview lawyer Scrappy Holmes, said they do not believe Pittman’s adult friend purposefully encouraged or threatened Pittman into the murders.
While Pittman believed her friend wanted her to kill Doss, that belief was grounded in delusional and revelational thinking, not reality, according to multiple reports from mental health experts who evaluated Pittman.
“Although it is evident she was aware her conduct was wrong and took steps to avoid detection, her delusional religious beliefs, delusions of reference and belief in ‘confirmations’ from benign events and statements led her to believe not only that her conduct was not wrong, but that it was the right thing to do,” an expert’s report states.
A second expert described Pittman as taking special meaning from innocuous statements. Pittman reportedly drew her own, delusional conclusions from statements on the television, billboards, or from conversations unrelated to her.
One expert report notes that Pittman reported hearing snakes talking like demons and seeing ghosts.
“Additionally, after the offenses, she reported seeing a pink cloud that she believed were the souls of the three victims,” a psychological report states.
Pittman was apparently motivated to confess by a deepening commitment to religion.
As Pittman’s case proceeded to trial, Curry and Holmes filed notice of their intent to plead insanity on Pittman’s behalf.
“The verdict form says, ‘Not guilty by reason of insanity.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Guilty but mentally ill,’” Curry said.
Speaking generally, Curry said jurors are often swayed to find a mentally ill defendant accused of horrific behavior guilty because of fear the defendant will be free to offend again.
Rochelle said there is a distinction between legal insanity and clinical insanity. Offenders are typically deemed competent by judges to proceed to trial as long as they understand what is happening around them and are able to assist their lawyers in preparation of a defense.
Whether a defendant should be held accountable for criminal behavior which might have been influenced by mental illness, is a question often left to a jury to decide.
Pittman was indicted for capital murder in the deaths of Doss and Guinevere and for first degree murder for Texas’ death. She pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree murder.
Had Pittman gone to trial and been convicted of capital murder, she would be required to serve more time behind bars before becoming parole eligible. Being eligible for parole does not mean parole will be granted.
Pittman was never eligible for the death penalty because of her age, 16, at the time of the murders.
Under Texas law, individuals accused of a crime are considered adults at 17. Pittman was certified to stand trial as an adult and her case was transferred from juvenile court to criminal court.
Capital murder is typically punishable in Texas by life without the possibility of parole or death by lethal injection. Pittman faced a lesser punishment range, life with parole possible after 40 years, if convicted of capital murder.
Pittman’s plea to first degree murder means she could be parole eligible after serving 30 years.
At Pittman’s plea hearing Jan. 31, 202nd District Judge Leon F. Pesek Jr. ordered the state’s file on Pittman sealed. Pesek amended his order after a Freedom of Information request was submitted to the District Attorney’s Office by the Gazette. Graphic crime scene photos and autopsy reports remain under seal.
While in jail in Texarkana, Pittman’s behavior has concerned authorities. While still in a juvenile detention facility, before she was certified to face charges as an adult, Pittman was disrespectful to staff and may have had an unhealthy influence on other juvenile detainees, according to court documents used to create the following account.
“She has a following in detention where she walks around and talks about God’s forgiveness in a distorted manner,” states an official report.
When spoken to about her behavior in juvenile detention, Pittman’s attitude, “...went from fairly pleasant to stone cold,” states a report from a juvenile court official.
While in the Bi-State Justice Building jail, Pittman has fought with other inmates and tampered with the lock on her cell door.
On Jan. 8, Pittman allegedly ran down a hallway, passing a guard before attacking an inmate performing work in a laundry room. Pittman allegedly knocked out the inmate’s tooth and pepper spray was used to bring her under control.
On Sept. 1, 2012, Pittman allegedly fought with a different inmate while in a common area in the jail. On Sept. 8, 2012, Pittman stuffed paper in her cell door lock so she could open it at will. She was allegedly planning to attack the same inmate with whom she fought the week before.
On July 7, 2012, Pittman stuffed paper in her cell door lock. Pittman left her cell during a time she was supposed to be confined and unplugged a television.
On Feb. 20, 2012, Pittman used the blade from a hand pencil sharpener to crop her hair. Notes by jail staff indicate that such a, “dramatic change in appearance is unacceptable.”
Notes in one of Pittman’s mental evaluations state Pittman cut her long hair because she feared another inmate might use it against her in a fight.
Curry said Pittman should receive treatment, including anti-psychotics, while in prison. Pittman is currently being held in the Crain Unit, a women’s prison operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Correctional Institutions Division.