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A Warrant to Kill

"One day you'll believe me, but by then I'll be dead."

I first heard those words in 1992, repeated by a man in a restaurant piano bar, not far from my Houston home. We’d been introduced by a mutual friend, and that night Ray Valentine belted down drinks, his eyes wet with tears, as he told the story of the tragic death of a woman he’d dated, Susan White.

Throughout that hot Houston summer, White complained that a man named Joseph Kent McGowen was harassing her. She said she’d rebuffed his advances and in retaliation he’d stalked her, threatening revenge against her and her troubled teenage son.

"One day you'll believe me but by then I'll be dead, and it'll be because Kent McGowen killed me," she'd said.

Valentine hadn't believed her. McGowen was a cop, a deputy sheriff who’d sworn to protect and defend. "A cop's not going to hurt you," he’d insisted.

But Valentine didn't know McGowen.

By the time I first heard about her entreaties, Susan White lay buried in her grave, the victim of three bullets fired by McGowen’s county-issued gun. McGowen was on duty, serving a warrant signed by a judge for White's arrest. He claimed he'd fired only when she'd pulled a gun. White’s gun was found on the scene. At first it seemed a clear case of self-defense.

But the rumors persisted, talk of a power-hungry cop not adverse to manipulating the legal system to satisfy a vengeful rage.

In the end, I would spend years investigating Kent McGowen, Susan White, and how their paths so fatally intersected. Theirs is a cautionary tale of the terrifying power of one bad cop and the helplessness of a woman caught in his sights.