Known as the “Railroad Killer,” Angel Resendiz was no angel. During his forty-seven years on this earth, his Wikipedia entries say he killed as many as 23 people. Just weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Resendiz surrendered to Texas authorities on July 13, 1999. He had graced the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List the three weeks prior to his surrender. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in May 2000 for the pre-Christmas 1998 murder of Dr. Claudia Benton in Harris County. He was executed in the state’s death chamber in Huntsville on June 27, 2006.
The Resendiz case was prosecuted by Harris County’s notorious District Attorney Johnny Holmes with the assistance of Assistant District Attorneys Lyn McCellan and Devon Anderson.
A June 25, 2007 Houston Chronicle piece by Alan Turner reported that Holmes had “created one of the biggest, most powerful prosecutorial machines in the nation.” Turner’s glowing tribute even called Johnny Holmes a “straight-arrow prosecutor” who personally prosecuted many cases, including the Resendiz case.
We have a different view of Holmes and his successor Charles “Chuck” Rosenthal.
In an October 2015 post, we made these observations about the legacy of the prosecutorial duo:
A conviction culture has historically permeated the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. The Brady rule has routinely been disregarded by its prosecutors by “hiding evidence, lying about evidence, using and encouraging false crime lab results, manufacturing evidence, and sending innocent people to prison … Former Harris County District Attorneys Johnny Holmes and Charles “Chuck” Rosenthal so popularized this conviction culture that the county became known as the ‘epicenter of the death penalty’ and a safe haven for prosecutorial misconduct.”
That’s the real legacy of Johnny Holmes, not that of a “straight arrow prosecutor.” His true legacy was evidenced in his handling of the Railroad Killer’s case.
Railroad Killer Confessed to Other Murders
In 2003, prior to his execution, Resendiz was interviewed by investigative journalist Alex Hannaford in the visiting room at the Livingston Polunsky Unit where death row inmates are housed.
In a February 16, 2019 freelance article for the Daily Beast, Hannaford said that Angel Resendiz confessed to him about the June 1998 brutal murder of Darryl Kolojaco who, as the journalist described “was bludgeoned to death with a steel pipe in the living room of his Houston home.”
Kolojaco’s wife, Diamantina, and her lover Andres Mascorro were arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder. Both were sentenced to terms of life imprisonment. The prosecutorial theory in the case was that the two lovers hatched the murder plot in order to cash in on a $100,000 life insurance policy carried by the victim. The case was prosecuted in 1999 by a Johnny Holmes’s prosecutor named Victor Jay Wisner who secured the convictions and life terms against the pair.
Two years after the Kolojaco/Mascorro convictions were obtained, Resendiz wrote a letter to his trial judge confessing to killing Darryl Kolojaco. The serial killer not only accurately described the victim’s home but described the style of the fences around the home, a nearby water tank, and a tree next to the home.
Prosecutors Dismissed Confession
In a June 3, 2007 article written by Associated Press writer Mark Babineck for My Plainview, ADA Wisner dismissed Resendiz’ confession despite the confessed killer’s detailed crime scene descriptions.
“We met with the Railroad Killer at length,” Wisner was quoted as saying in the Babineck article. “Either he saw [news accounts] or somebody clued him in on the case. But his story is impossible as to how he claimed it happened … His story does not check out. It’s impossible.”
ADA Lyn McClellan, who assisted Holmes in the prosecution of Resendiz, was equally dismissive, saying:
“I’m confident Resendiz will do anything and everything to basically draw attention to himself. He’s not going to fade away quietly. It’s just not going to happen.”
Hannaford sees the issue differently.
After he and wife moved back to Texas in 2015, he found the cassette tape on which he had recorded Resendiz’ confession about the Kolojaco murder. He made contact with Mascorro and Diamantina Kolojaco, both of whom are still serving their life terms in the Texas prison system. He discussed at length with the pair details about the crime and how they were convicted for it. He came away with the strong sense that their cases should be reopened and re-litigated.
Hannaford also located Mark Babineck, from the associated press, to discuss Resendiz’ confession to the killing of Darryl Kolojaco. Babineck was impressed enough with the serial killer’s crime scene descriptions laid out in the confession that he contacted “prosecutors” about the confession.
Prosecutors Theories Don’t Add up
“But they were confident in their case and said he might have picked up those details somewhere in the prison system,” Babineck told Hannaford. “But as far as I could find he had never served time in any institution in the ensuing years with anyone involved in that case.”
Babineck moved on with life and other stories.
Resendiz was executed.
Hannaford also contacted Les Ribnik, one of Resendiz’ appellate attorneys, who showed the journalist photographs he had acquired of the Kolojaco crime scene.
“Resendiz mentioned a picture on the wall of the Santa Maria, Nina and Pinto,” Ribnik told Hannaford. “His physical descriptions of the scene were something that only someone who had been there [at Kolojaco’s home] would know. He also described the swimming pool; said its corners were scalloped. And it didn’t make any sense until I saw it for myself.”
Still, that had not enough for Johnny Holmes and his conviction-oriented prosecutors. The Holmes prosecution teams always placed conviction before actual innocence. Once they convinced a jury to pronounce “guilty,” actual innocence was a moot issue.
That, we believe, is what happened in the Mascorro/Kolojaco cases. Their jury conviction was more important than Resendiz’ confession.
While the prosecution team stated the motive for the Kolojaco murder was insurance money, they repeatedly used racial appeals about the macho, jealous nature of the Mexican culture as the real reason why Mascorro actually killed Kolojaco. Mexican racism was more appealing than insurance money.
Holmes’s office also thwarted efforts by Mascorro’s defense team to secure the testimony of a U.S. Marshal who was investigating the Kolojaco murder and had shown a photograph to Darryl Kolojaco’s neighbors of a suspect who was not Mascorro. The U.S, Marshal’s Office in Houston recently confirmed to Hannaford that it had investigated the Resendiz case and it was possible their agent had tried to link the serial killer to the Kolojaco murder.
Advocates for Wrongfully Convicted Take up Case
Hannaford has secured both the support and assistance of the South Texas College of Law and a nonprofit group called Proclaim Justice, that fights against wrongful convictions to not only investigate but undertake post-conviction efforts, to secure reversals of Diamantina Kolojaco’s and Andres Mascorro’s convictions.
The current Harris County District Attorney’s Office told Hannaford that the Kolojaco case had been handled by another administration and “the prosecutors have moved on … In the event any defense lawyers filed any appellate type motions, our comment would be from those documents at that time.”
Given the prosecutorial tactics during the Holmes/Rosenthal era, we feel the Resendiz confession warrants a new trial for Diamantina Kolojaco and Andres Mascorro. In short, it appears the Railroad Killer knew too much about the Kolojaco murder scene not to have been at the scene. At the very least, a jury should hear about the Resendiz confession and about the U.S. Marshal’s investigation before deciding whether Diamantina Kolojaco and Andres Mascorro should spend the rest of their lives in prison.