Three decades later, Fort Worth man arrested in wife’s strangulation

Posted Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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He was only 9 when his mother was slain, but after 28 years that tragic day remains seared into the memory of Dewayne Jones.

Jones remembers how his stepfather, Paul C. Ervin, wouldn’t let him or his two brothers inside the family’s Fort Worth house the afternoon of June 19, 1985.

He recalls how later that evening, Ervin took the three boys to a Juneteenth celebration in Seminary Park, disappearing until he reunited with the boys hours later, saying he had been there the whole time.

And Jones can still vividly picture returning to their house on Richardson Street, finding it trashed inside, and watching his stepfather peek into a rear bedroom, only to close the door quickly and order the boys outside.

When police responded to Ervin’s 911 call, they found Linda Ervin, 26, dead atop her bed. She had been strangled.

Jones felt certain his stepfather was to blame. Investigators did, too, and arrested Ervin on suspicion of murder, noting inconsistencies in his story, previous domestic violence assaults on his wife that he was accused of, and a $5,000 insurance policy he took out on her about a month before her death.

But a grand jury declined to indict Ervin because of “lack of physical evidence,” according to the affidavit with a search warrant obtained by police last year.

Now, after years of Jones pushing for his mother’s case to be reopened and for DNA testing to be ordered, a grand jury has returned a murder indictment against Ervin.

Ervin, 58, was arrested by Fort Worth police Saturday, and he was in the Tarrant County Jail on Monday with bail set at $25,000.

Jones, 38, of Dallas, said his family is relieved that Ervin has been arrested.

“For the past two or three years of getting this case and really finding out more and more of what he did to my mother, I can’t sleep at night,” Jones said. “I’m thinking about this man 24/7. But we did it the right way. We believed in the system.”

Mike Heiskell, Ervin’s defense attorney, said he believes that the grand jury made the right call 28 years ago when it no-billed his client.

“I understand this was instigated, if you will, by the sons — his stepsons at one point — of the deceased,” Heiskell said. “They’ve been rattling their sabers for years now and apparently they found a sympathetic ear within the DA’s office, and that’s unfortunate.”

Still, Heiskell expressed confidence that a jury will “look at the facts and render an acquittal, which is what he’s deserving of.”

“He’s lived an exemplary life and he’s gainfully employed; a good person,” Heiskell said. “We’re just hopeful that he can quickly return to a normal life that he’s lived over these past 25-plus years.”

DNA evidence

The Fort Worth police cold-case unit reopened the case last year after Jones contacted Sarah Jane Waters, a cold-case detective at the time.

Waters reviewed the case and asked that fingernail clippings taken from Linda Ervin’s body be tested for DNA, “thinking she would have struggled with her attacker,” according to a search warrant affidavit.

When a man’s DNA was found under the fingernails of her right hand, Waters obtained a warrant for Paul Ervin’s DNA in August 2012, and a match was subsequently made.

Heiskell said the DNA evidence against his client “is not compelling in any shape, form or fashion.”

“They were married. They were intimate with each other on a regular basis. You would probably find his DNA all over her body, not just her fingernails,” Heiskell said.

The search warrant affidavit describes other factors that police believe points to Ervin as the killer.

According to the affidavit, Ervin told police that he left his house at 6 p.m. to take his stepsons to the Juneteenth celebration and that he discovered his wife’s body at 10:40 p.m. on returning home. He said she did not go with them because she was tired.

“According to Ervin, when they walked in the front door he noticed that some things had been moved and were not as he had left them,” the document says. “At that point he made the boys sit on the sofa because it looked as though someone had broken in and he wanted to check the house. Paul Ervin proceeded through the hallway to the bedroom, where he could see his wife lying on the bed. He called to her and got no response. He went closer and touched her and knew then that something was wrong.”

Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani, who conducted the autopsy on Linda Ervin, concluded that she had been dead about 10 to 12 hours before her body was discovered, the affidavit says.

The sons told police that Ervin kept them from going inside the house that afternoon. The oldest son told police that he last saw his mother between noon and 1 p.m., when she asked him to go to the store for cigarettes.

The two older boys told investigators that their stepfather didn’t take them to the Juneteenth celebration until about 8 p.m. and that he then disappeared from the event.

“When I went back to where the car was at, the car wasn’t there,” Jones recalled Monday. “I went back to find my brothers and said, ‘Paul is gone.’ It was dark when he came back. He said, ‘I was here all along.’ I said, ‘No, you weren’t.’”

‘I fought for it’

Jones believes that his stepfather killed his mother earlier in the day and returned to the house while the children were at the Juneteenth celebration to stage it as if there had been a burglary.

The search warrant affidavit says that Linda Ervin had filed a report against her husband that February, stating he had attacked her after accusing her of having an affair with another man.

“It was at that point that he strangled her until she was unconscious, tied her up and burned various part of her body with a knife that he had heated on the stove,” the affidavit states.

Jones said that about a month before her death, his mother got the courage to flee with the boys from her husband and take them to Liberty, in Southeast Texas, where she had family, but that the breakup was short-lived. Jones said that after Ervin called his mother, she pulled the children together.

“She was crying, ‘If anything ever happens to me, y’all stick together,’” Jones recalled. “A few days later, he came down and picked us up.”

After Linda Ervin’s death, Jones and his older brother went to live with their father. Their younger brother, who had a different dad, went to live with him.

Jones said that after the first grand jury declined to indict Ervin, he lost faith in justice system.

“The evidence was there when this happened,” he said. “They did not come and get us to testify. I kind of blamed my mother’s family because they didn’t push the issue.”

This time, Jones said, he and his older brother testified to the grand jury.

“Whatever happens now happens, but I honored my mother the right way,” Jones said. “I fought for it.”

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655 Twitter: @deannaboyd

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