In­mate ex­e­cuted in Texas for guard’s death

Supreme Court told man’s ap­peals were de­lay­ing tac­tics

Albuquerque Journal - - NATION - BY MICHAEL GRACZYK

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A Texas in­mate con­victed in the death of a prison guard was put to death Thurs­day af­ter the U.S. Supreme Court re­jected his lawyer’s at­tempts to halt the ex­e­cu­tion.

Robert Pruett was given a lethal in­jec­tion for the De­cem­ber 1999 death of cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer Daniel Na­gle at a prison south­east of San An­to­nio. Na­gle was re­peat­edly stabbed with a tape-wrapped metal rod, though an au­topsy showed he died from a heart at­tack that the as­sault caused.

Pros­e­cu­tors have said the at­tack stemmed from a dis­pute over a peanut but­ter sand­wich that Pruett wanted to take into a recre­ation yard against prison rules.

The 38-year-old Pruett, who was al­ready serv­ing a 99-year sen­tence for a neigh­bor’s killing near Hous­ton when he was con­victed in Na­gle’s death, lost two ap­peals at the Supreme Court as his ex­e­cu­tion neared. He be­came the 20th pris­oner put to death this year in the U.S. and the sixth in Texas, which car­ries out the death penalty more than any other state. Texas ex­e­cuted seven in­mates last year.

Pruett’s lawyers had asked the high court to re­view whether lower courts prop­erly de­nied a fed­eral civil rights law­suit that sought ad­di­tional DNA test­ing in his case. They also ques­tioned whether a pris­oner like Pruett, who claimed ac­tual in­no­cence in fed­eral court be­cause of newly dis­cov­ered ev­i­dence af­ter ex­haust­ing all other ap­peals, could be put to death.

Pruett avoided ex­e­cu­tion in April 2015, hours be­fore he could have been taken to the death cham­ber, when a state judge halted his pun­ish­ment so ad­di­tional DNA test­ing could be con­ducted on the rod used to stab the 37-year-old Na­gle. The new tests showed no DNA on the tape, but un­cov­ered DNA on the rod from an un­known fe­male who au­thor­i­ties said likely han­dled the shank dur­ing the ap­peals process af­ter the orig­i­nal tests in 2002.

Pruett’s at­tor­neys un­suc­cess­fully sought more DNA test­ing and filed a fed­eral civil rights law­suit ar­gu­ing Pruett had been de­nied due process. The 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals re­jected the law­suit last week and the lawyers ap­pealed to the Supreme Court on Tues­day.

At­tor­neys for Texas told the Supreme Court that Pruett’s ap­peals were de­lay tac­tics af­ter is­sues were “re­peat­edly raised” and “prop­erly re­jected” by the courts.

No phys­i­cal ev­i­dence tied Pruett to Na­gle’s death at the Texas Depart­ment of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice’s McCon­nell Unit near Beeville.

Robert Pruett

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