Texas inmate asks US Supreme Court to block execution

AP News
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Posted: Apr 27, 2015 4:36 PM
Texas inmate asks US Supreme Court to block execution

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A Houston-area slaying landed Robert Pruett in prison with a 99-year sentence.

Then a dispute with a corrections officer over a peanut butter sandwich ended with the guard being stabbed to death and Pruett ultimately convicted of the killing and sent to Texas' death row.

Pruett, 35, is scheduled for lethal injection Tuesday evening in Huntsville for the 1999 killing of the corrections officer, Daniel Nagle. The inmate is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block his execution.

Prosecutors say Pruett was upset Nagle had written a disciplinary report against him for trying to take his brown bag lunch including the peanut butter sandwich into a prison recreation yard in violation of rules. Pruett insisted he was framed and that Nagle, 37, could have been killed by other inmates or officers at the McConnell Unit near Beeville, about 85 miles southeast of San Antonio.

Pruett's attorneys on Monday had appeals before the Supreme Court, asking the justices to block what would be the seventh lethal injection this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state.

State and lower federal courts already turned down appeals in which Pruett's lawyers argued he is innocent, that his conviction was based on testimony from fellow inmates offered secret deals by prison authorities and that evidence improperly was linked to him or improperly stored since his trial, meaning DNA testing now was incapable of exonerating him.

They also contended he had deficient legal help at his trial and a Texas appeals court improperly rejected an appeal raising that claim.

"Not a single iota of physical evidence connected Mr. Pruett to this crime," lawyer David Dow said in a federal court filing.

Pruett testified at his 2002 trial in Corpus Christi that Nagle tore up the report containing his name and that he was in a gym when he found out the officer had been stabbed with a 7-inch sharpened metal rod.

Appeals suggesting the officer's unknown killer ripped up the report and left it at the stabbing scene to frame Pruett were "not credible in light of Pruett's own testimony," Jefferson Clendenin, an assistant Texas attorney general, said.

State attorneys also challenged other appeals that questioned the validity of evidence and contended Nagle could have been killed by corrupt guards who wanted to keep him from exposing smuggling and cartel drug money laundering operations in the prison.

The claims were a "conspiracy theory" with no supporting proof, state lawyers said.

"I never killed nobody in my life," Pruett testified at his 2002 trial for Nagle's killing.

Pruett already was serving 99 years for participating with his brother and father in the 1995 slaying of a neighbor in Channelview, east of Houston. His father is serving life in prison. His brother has a 40-year sentence.

If Pruett's execution occurs, Texas prison officials will be left with enough pentobarbital for one more lethal injection — set for early next month. At least two more are set for May and June, meaning the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will have to replenish its supply of the increasingly difficult-to-obtain sedative for execution use or find a substitute drug to replace it.