HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Texas inmate was set to be executed Wednesday evening for setting a fire that killed his 18-month-old daughter and her two young half-sisters at an East Texas home 15 years ago.
Raphael Holiday, 36, would be the 13th convicted killer put to death this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state. It has accounted for about half of all executions in the U.S. so far this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court was considering an appeal seeking to halt Holiday's lethal injection so new attorneys could be appointed to pursue additional unspecified appeals in his case.
Austin-based lawyer Gretchen Sween argued Holiday's court-appointed attorneys abandoned him after the high court in June refused to review his case. Those lawyers advised Holiday his legal issues were exhausted and new appeals would be fruitless.
Holiday protested, wrote a federal judge to order them off his case and asked that Sween be allowed to represent him. Those efforts, however, were rebuffed by lower courts.
State attorneys told the Supreme Court that Sween had no authority to "elbow out" properly appointed lawyers in the case. The request for a reprieve and petition for new lawyers would "begin the process anew" and mean "perpetually avoiding execution," Ellen Stewart-Klein, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the justices in a filing Tuesday.
"I'm not afraid of dying," Holiday told The Associated Press recently from a visiting cage outside death row. "I know at some point we all die. It's just the way of dying.
"If I have to die, I want at least a fair chance of fighting."
Holiday insisted he didn't know how the log cabin he once shared with his common-law wife and the children in the Madison County woods about 100 miles north of Houston caught fire in September 2000.
"I loved my kids," Holiday said. "I never would do harm to any of them."
Prison officials said the girls' mother planned to witness Holiday's execution. She declined to speak with reporters.
Evidence and testimony showed Holiday was irate over a protective order obtained by his estranged wife after his arrest for sexually assaulting one of the children. Holiday, from prison, contended he knew nothing about the assault.
According to court records, he showed up at the home and forced the girls' grandmother at gunpoint to douse the interior with gasoline. After it ignited, he sped away in the grandmother's car, hit a police car that arrived outside the cabin and then led officers on a chase that ended two counties away when he wrecked.
Defense attorneys at his trial suggested an electrical problem or a pilot light started the blaze in the early hours of Sept. 6, 2000, killing Holiday's daughter, Justice, and her half-sisters, Tierra Lynch, 7, and Jasmine DuPaul, 5.
The girls' grandmother told a jury she watched Holiday bend down and then the flames erupted, court records show. Jurors convicted him of capital murder and decided he should be put to death.
Frank Blazek, one of Holiday's trial lawyers, said Holiday's actions were an attempt out of desperation to reconnect with his wife and the children.
"Obviously, there was nothing positive and for anyone who looked at it, this was self-destructive and dangerous and risky," Blazek said. "He wasn't thinking logically that night.
"There was plenty of evidence of drug use that night as well."
This story has been corrected to show that the last name of the inmate's attorney is spelled Sween, not Sweet.