Carl Blue's children were whisked away from Bryan in 1994 when their dad was charged with capital murder before he ultimately was convicted by a Brazos County jury and sentenced to death.
His daughter, Quanitra Gooden, was 7 at the time, and her brother, Carl Gooden Jr., was 6.
"All I remember are smiles and happy times when he'd come to get us," said Quanitra Gooden, now a 25-year-old who moved back to Bryan from Mexia when she was 15.
On Thursday, Blue, 47, is scheduled to be executed for killing his ex-girlfriend, Carmen Richards, and severely injuring Richards' friend, Larence Williams, by setting them on fire.
Blue has been on death row for nearly two decades while his case went through a series of legal proceedings -- including a second punishment trial in 2001.
Friday, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his final appeal for a stay of execution, which Blue is now expected to submit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
If denied there, his last chance for a stay based on appeal will be with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Blue's appeals attorney, Michael Charlton of Houston, is basing the appeals on several points, including ineffective counsel. According to the appeal, a lack of mitigating evidence was presented in Blue's second punishment trial by his attorney at the time, John Wright.
Charlton argues in the appeal that Wright failed to put on evidence about how Blue's birth and upbringing -- Blue was born premature to a 13-year-old mother and had to be kept in an "incubator" for two months -- affected his development.
Evidence about his low intellectual function and limitations in adaptive skills also were left out of the trial, according to the appeal.
"I try not to think about [the execution]," Quanitra Gooden said in a recent interview while sitting on a couch in her maternal grandmother's Bryan living room. "But all I can do is think about it."
After the Gooden siblings moved to Mexia in 1994, they were told that their father was in prison but weren't given details.
Carl Gooden, 24, said he didn't find out what his father was responsible for until a few weeks ago.
"I couldn't believe it," he said.
His sister found out about her dad's crime when she wrote a letter asking him the details when she was 16.
"He wrote a little summary about it," she said. "I was mad for a long time. I didn't write him for six months."
These days, Quanitra Gooden said, she writes her father weekly and typically gets a response back for each letter.
In the correspondences, she said, she describes her daily activities and keeps him updated on any life changes or plans.
"He always sends words of encouragement, says he's proud of us," she said. "He tells us not to worry about him."
Carl Gooden said his letters to Blue aren't as regular as his sister's, but, like Quanitra Gooden, he said he thinks his dad has done the best job being a father as he can, considering he lives on death row.
Both of Blue's kids said they have resentment for their father for killing Richards -- an act that robbed them of a present dad -- and regret the pain it's inflicted on the Richards and Blue families.
But the man they know isn't the same guy who set two people on fire, they said.
He's their dad; they love him.
"I can't really put it together," Quanitra Gooden said. "I was a kid. The only memories I have of him are from childhood. As far as I knew, he was good."
At the time of his arrest, Blue told police he'd been smoking crack shortly before he walked up the stairs to Richards' apartment and lit her on fire. The incident originally was intended to be a prank, he said in a police interview.
Staying away from drugs has been a lesson Blue has drilled into his children, they both said.
He often emphasizes the importance of having faith and has expressed remorse for killing Richards, Quanitra Gooden said.
Sometime around Christmas, Blue sent a letter to the man responsible for seeking the death penalty in his case: former Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner.
At that time, Turner was on the verge of retirement after nearly 30 years as district attorney and was going through the emotions of transitioning into a new life chapter.
When he opened up the card from death row, Blue had written: "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, God has plans for you," and went on to wish Turner good luck in retirement.
"It was interesting. Really, really interesting," Turner said. "It was a surprise because I never had received anything like that before. I believe it was sincere on his part."
Despite the positive feelings the letter inspired, Turner said it doesn't change his belief that Blue deserves the death penalty.
"Making the decision to seek the death penalty is obviously a weighty decision. I'd look at the crime and all the devastation in it," he said. "I think the general public thinks that we just go 'Oh, this person should die and this one shouldn't,' but there's a lot that goes into it."
Aside from the crime, Turner said, when considering the death penalty, he'd consider the defendant's criminal history and personal background.
Blue was one of 14 defendants who received the death penalty under Turner.
"I think 14 is a lot; I was amazed there were that many death penalty cases," he said.
What sticks out about Blue is the way he committed his murder and the "horrific amount of suffering" he put Richards and Williams through, Turner said.
Quanitra Gooden said late Monday she wasn't sure if she would be attending her dad's execution, while Carl Gooden indicated he won't be a witness.
Blue's daughter said through tears that if she does go, she hopes she'll get to give her dad a hug before he's executed -- something she hasn't gotten to do since childhood.
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