Texas ex­e­cutes pris­oner for killing guard

High court re­fuses his ap­peal over de­nial of ad­di­tional DNA test­ing

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Graczyk

A Texas in­mate con­victed in the death of a prison guard is put to death af­ter the Supreme Court re­jected his lawyer’s at­tempts to halt the ex­e­cu­tion.

HUNTSVILLE — 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.

In his fi­nal state­ment be­fore be­ing put to death, the 38-yearold Pruett said he hurt a lot of peo­ple and a lot of peo­ple hurt him. He said he was sorry and held no grudges.

“I’ve had to learn les­sons in life the hard way,” he said. “One day there won’t be a need to hurt peo­ple.”

He told his friends who were watch­ing the ex­e­cu­tion through a win­dow that he loved them.

“I’m ready to go,” Pruett said. “Nighty night. I’m done, war­den.”

As the lethal dose of the pow­er­ful seda­tive pen­to­bar­bi­tal be­gan to flow, he started chant­ing: “Love. Light. It’s for­ever.”

His voice rose to a near-shout as he re­peated the phrase. He added ob­scen­i­ties, his words reach­ing a yell. He soon started to slur and then slipped into un­con­scious­ness.

He was pro­nounced dead at 6:46 p.m.

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,

“I’ve had to learn les­sons in life the hard way. One day there won’t be a need to hurt peo­ple.”

Robert Pruett, in­mate ex­e­cuted for cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer’s 1999 death

who claimed ac­tual in­no­cence in fed­eral court be­cause of newly dis­cov­ered ev­i­dence af­ter ex­haust­ing all other ap­peals, could be put to death.

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.

Pruett’s 99-year mur­der sen­tence was for par­tic­i­pat­ing with his fa­ther and a brother in the 1995 stab­bing death of a 29-year-old neigh­bor, Ray­mond Yar­brough, at the man’s trailer home in Chan­nelview, just east of Hous­ton. Pruett was 15 when the at­tack hap­pened.

Ac­cord­ing to court tes­ti­mony from a sher­iff ’s de­tec­tive, Pruett ar­gued with Yar­brough and then got his fa­ther and brother to join him in at­tack­ing the man.

Pruett punched and kicked Yar­brough and held him down while his fa­ther stabbed the man mul­ti­ple times, the de­tec­tive said.

Pruett’s fa­ther, Howard Pruett, is serv­ing life in prison. His brother, Howard Pruett Jr., was sen­tenced to 40 years.


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