Just days before jury selection was scheduled to begin in the murder trial of Joshua Ragston for the 2009 robbery and murder of Don Stolz, Ragston entered a plea of guilty to the charge of murder. As a result, Ragston was sentenced to 30 years in prison. According to District Attorney Tuck McLain “Ragston will be parole eligible in 15 years flat but it is virtually unheard of for a murder defendant to make parole that early. Most murder defendants serve at least 80% of their sentence before being allowed to parole”. “I will be surprised if he breathes free air in less than 25 years” McLain went on to say. Ragston, of Hempstead, Texas, was alleged to have been the “lookout” during this robbery.
Ragston was standing outside the liquor store while his alleged accomplice, Christopher Boulds, robbed long time store owner, Don Stolz. “Ragston, who was 17 at the time, was not in the store when Boulds and Stolz got into the scuffle that resulted in the shooting death of Stolz. He was outside making sure no one walked in on Boulds during the robbery” said McLain. McLain went on to say “It was clear to me that Ragston and Boulds were both involved in the robbery but we had a difficult time proving that Ragston knew Boulds had a weapon”.
The investigation of the case lasted almost 3 years before Boulds made a 911 call admitting his involvement in the robbery/murder. “Boulds and Ragston were suspects from the beginning. We just couldn’t get the evidence we needed to conclusively put them at the scene. Navasota Police and my investigator collected literally hundreds of pieces of evidence and interviewed hundreds of witnesses. But it was Boulds’ statement ultimately gave us what we needed to charge both men” McLain explained.
Just days after Ragston was arrested for the murder, the United States Supreme Court declared that an automatic life sentence without parole was unconstitutional when applied to anyone under the age of 18. Since Ragston was 17 when this crime occurred and the only punishment available in Texas was automatic life without parole, there was no constitutional punishment available for Ragston should he be tried for capital murder. The legislature addressed this problem in the 2013 session and, eventually re-wrote the law to provide the punishment of life with parole after 40 years which McLain believed would pass constitutional muster.
“I felt confident that the ‘fix’ of the statute would solve the problem but I also knew it was an issue we would have to fight on appeal” McLain said. “Based on that and some evidentiary problems we had proving whether Ragston knew Boulds had a weapon, the issues concerning the constitutionality of the punishment as well as the role of Ragston as the lookout as opposed to the actual shooter, I recommended to the family we consider offering Ragston a plea offer for murder” McLain explained. “Although the family would have certainly liked to have seen Ragston spend the remainder of his life in prison, they understood the reasoning for the plea and they acquiesced to what I recommended”
Stolz’ widow, son, sister and brother-in-law were present in the Waller County courtroom when Ragston plead guilty to the murder charge before Judge Albert McCaig. McCaig approved the recommendation and sentenced Ragston to 30 years in prison. Afterwards Nancy Stolz, Don Stolz’ widow, was allowed to address Ragston. Stolz ask Ragston to his face “You admit doing this?” to which Ragston replied, “Yes mam”. She went on to make a tearful statement with her son standing by her side stating that Ragston had sentenced her, her son and her grandchildren to life without her best friend, their father and grandfather yet he still lives.
“Nancy’s statement was gut wrenching for me to listen to” McLain said. “She has lost so much and, even though this plea is probably not what she really would have liked to have seen, I hope and pray it gives her and the family some degree of closure. They have been so very patient, supportive and understanding over these years. Their support has meant a great deal to me. Additionally, if it weren’t for the hard work and persistence of the Navasota Police Department and my investigator, this case may have never been solved. Specifically, it was the tenacity of Detective Mike Mize and Investigator Travis Higginbotham that got us to where we are today. Navasota and Grimes County are fortunate to have police officers of this magnitude serving here”
Christopher Boulds, the alleged shooter in the case, remains in custody in the Grimes County Jail awaiting trial on charges of capital murder. McLain explained “We do not have a firm trial date. Boulds was found incompetent to stand trial late last year but has since been sent to Rusk State Hospital for treatment. He returned to us in December with a diagnosis indicating he was now competent. We still have to have a trial before a jury to determine competency. Assuming he is found competent, we can proceed to trial on the capital murder charges. This will take some time.”
Provided by the Grimes County District Attorney's Office