2007-02-01 / Island Life

Man convicted of 1978 murder of Shorty's owner up for parole

BY DAN PARKER SOUTH JETTY REPORTER

SHORTY FOWLER SHORTY FOWLER State authorities are considering whether to grant parole to Bennie Ray Dupnik Jr., who has served more than 28 year of a life prison sentence for the murder of Gladys "Shorty" Fowler, founder of Shorty's Place.

Dupnik beat 7 2 - y e a r - o l d Fowler to death with a pool cue and robbed the bar on May 25, 1978. Dupnik, who was 16 at the time of the crime, was tried as an adult and convicted of capital murder.

F o w l e r ' s granddaughter, Joy George, of Port Aransas, said she has written a letter arguing against parole and plans to send it to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. She said she is going to gather signatures on the letter and then mail it.

The killing devastated George's family.

"I think that what he did was premeditated," George said. "If he had just stopped and realized that my grandmother … she gave so many people on this island a helping hand when they needed it. All he had to do was ask her, and she would have given him a job. She would have given him the money. It was just a piddly little amount he took."

' The crime shocked and angered many community members who held

BENNIE RAY DUPNIK JR. BENNIE RAY DUPNIK JR. ' Fowler and her establishment in high regard. Fowler established Shorty's in 1946. Today, it is an island landmark, the oldest family-run business in town, George said. Fowler's daughter, Rose Smithey - George's mother - owns the bar now.

Dupnik has been behind bars since the day of the killing. Now 45 years old, he is imprisoned at the Ramsey I Unit, a state prison in Rosharon, south of Houston.

Contacted for comment, Dupnik referred the South Jetty to a friend's Web site where he had a 2003 letter to parole authorities posted. On the Web site, Dupnik said he had the letter put on the Internet because "it created a forum for me to express my deeply felt remorse publicly."

In the letter, Dupnik described at length a childhood he said was filled with physical and emotional abuse.

Dupnik had been living in Port Aransas, working as a deckhand, for only a few weeks when he committed the murder. Alone in the bar with Fowler, he planned to knock her out from behind with one blow from a pool cue, then take some money and leave, he wrote in the letter. When one blow didn't knock her out, he struck her repeatedly, causing her death, he wrote.

"I was a depressed, lonely and very troubled young boy," Dupnik wrote. "The physical and mental abuse that I had experienced was simply too much. I never wanted Shorty to die, and I am so very sorry that she did."

Dupnik fled the crime scene in Fowler's car but stopped to change a flat on a dirt road just off what today is State Hwy. 361, about four miles south of Avenue G, according to an account written by Don Perkins, formerly chief of the Port Aransas Police Department.

Customers walking into Shorty's found Fowler's body and called for police, according to an article that ran in the South Jetty soon after the slaying.

Perkins went to the crime scene, then drove down Hwy. 361 after hearing Fowler's car had been seen there, according to Perkins' account, which he wrote in a 1998 letter asking parole authorities not to free Dupnik.

Dupnik was letting the car down from a jack as Perkins drove up. Dupnik got in Fowler's car and began to speed away.

Perkins wrote that he fired shots into a rear tire, but the car continued about half a mile until the dirt road ran out. Dupnik then got out of the car and ran about 300 yards through the dunes before collapsing. Perkins arrested him.

"All through the investigation, Mr. Dupnik never indicated any remorse at all," Perkins wrote. "This type of attitude was also evident at his trial. It appeared that Mr. Dupnik at times appeared to be quite cocky."

In his letter on the Web site, Dupnik wrote that he has matured since being imprisoned and strived to become worthy of parole.

"Except for a short membership in a prison gang, and three necessary fights, I have no violence, or violent behaviour, on my institutional record," Dupnik wrote. He said he earned a G.E.D., completed three "vocational trades" and finished requirements for an Associate of Arts degree.

Dupnik, who works as a carpenter in his prison's furniture factory, has been reviewed for possible parole in July 1998, December 1999, October 2001 and October 2003 but was rejected each time, said Michelle Lyons, director of public information for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

George said she wants to see Dupnik remain behind bars quite a while longer.

"I just don't want there ever to be any chance of having to face him," George said. "I just don't think he should be on the streets. Maybe he has been rehabilitated, but I think he needs more years to think about what he did."

The current parole review process for Dupnik began in September last year. A decision by parole authorities could come any time, Lyons said. The parole review process usually takes about six months, she said.

Dupnik will not appear in person before the threemember panel that will make a decision about his parole, Lyons said. Each panel member will individually review Dupnik's case and then issue a vote, she said.

The panel members consider the crime, the inmate's behavior in prison and letters in support of parole and against, Lyons said. If Dupnik is granted parole, he would be released in about two months, Lyons said.

In his 2003 letter, Dupnik wrote that his sister and her husband offered to let him live with them if he is paroled. Dupnik did not say where they live.

The public may express opinions about whether Dupnik should be paroled by writing to:

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, P.O. Box 599, Huntsville, TX, 77342

Letters should make reference to Dupnik by name and his inmate number: 289347.

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