Robert Pruett, first imprisoned at age 16, executed in Texas despite questions about evidence

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Robert Pruett, seen here in a 2013 interview, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of correctional officer Daniel Nagle.
 Tamir Kalifa

 

The man convicted in a 1999 prison guard’s murder always said he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates. After rounds of DNA testing that were deemed inconclusive, he was executed Thursday night.

12 October 2017 |JOLIE MCCULLOUGH| The Texas Tribune

“Robert Pruett was executed in Huntsville Thursday night, completing the death sentence he received more than 15 years ago in the 1999 murder of prison guard Daniel Nagle.

Nagle was 37 when he was repeatedly stabbed with a makeshift knife in a Beeville prison. His body was found in a pool of blood next to a torn-up disciplinary report he had written against Pruett.

Last Statement: Offender Barney Ronald Fuller, Jr. #999481 I don’t have anything to say, you can proceed Warden Jones.

Pruett, 20 at the time, had already been in prison for years, convicted as an accomplice and sentenced to 99 years in a murder his father committed when he was 15. Prosecutors argued Pruett killed Nagle because of the report, but Pruett consistently and adamantly insisted on his innocence. He argued he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates about whom Nagle was writing a “lengthy grievance,” according to a recent court filing.

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Robert Pruett: Kati Laukkanen

 

In his last words, Pruett expressed his love for the friends who witnessed his execution.

“I’ve hurt a lot of people, and a lot of people have hurt me … One day, there won’t be a need to hurt people,” 38-year-old Pruett said in his final statement, strapped to a gurney in Texas’ death chamber.

Last Statement: Offender Robert Pruett I just want to let everyone in here to know I love you so much. I’ve hurt a lot of people and a lot of people have hurt me. I love y’all so much. Life don’t end here it goes on forever. I’ve had to learn lessons in life the hard way. One day there won’t be a need to hurt people. I love y’all so much. I’m ready to go but I’ll be back. Nighty night everybody, nighty night everybody. I’m done warden.

His last appeals were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court within an hour of his scheduled execution, and at 6:17 p.m. he was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. He was pronounced dead 29 minutes later after chanting and shouting obscenities, the Associated Press reported. Several of Pruett’s friends, as well as the wife and in-laws of Nagle, were expected to attend the execution. Family of Ray Yarbrough, the man Pruett’s father killed, were also listed as witnesses.

Nagle’s sister, Nora Oyler, issued a statement through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, saying she and other family members still miss Daniel every day.

Last Statement: Offender Taichin Preyor First and foremost I’d like to say, “Justice has never advanced by taking a life” by Coretta Scott King. Lastly, to my wife and to my kids, I love y’all forever and always. That’s it.

“The execution will in no way minimize our loss,” she said. “We have chosen to spend this time together and away from the coverage so that we can celebrate Daniel’s life and not the tragedy of his death.”

prodeath
Pro Death Penalty

Pruett’s 2002 conviction in Nagle’s murder was primarily based on eyewitness testimony from inmates, which his lawyers have argued is unreliable. He fought for years to test crime scene evidence for DNA in an attempt to prove his innocence. Courts twice ordered testing on clothes, the report and the weapon, but results were ruled inconclusive. In April, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said the results would not have affected his conviction, setting the path for a new execution date.

Last Statement: Offender Coy Wesbrook #999281 Yeah, first off, I want to say that I am sorry for the pain that I have caused you people.  I am sorry that I cannot bring everybody back.  I wish it could be different.  I know it would be hard for you to understand what went on that night, I can’t bring them back as much as I would like to.  I love my daughter and all of my supporters.  I pray that the Lord take care of me and all of you.  I have no bad sentiment towards anyone.  I can understand your outrage and why you are mad at me.  God be with all of us.

Jack Choate, executive director of the Special Prosecution Unit, which prosecutes crimes in Texas prisons, said that after all of the court reviews, he didn’t see “room” for an innocence claim, mentioning how Pruett admitted on cross-examination he had asked an inmate to testify that he had cut his hand the day of the murder. Pruett’s blood on a prison shirt, he testified, was because of an injury he got lifting weights.

Pruett told friends who were watching the execution through a window that he loved them and, “I’m ready to go.” As the lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital started to flow, he began to chant, “Love. Light. It’s forever.” His voice rose as he repeated the phrase, followed by obscenities. He began yelling, then slurred his words before slipping into unconsciousness. (WSWS)

“I think when people look at the whole picture … you can see what the jury saw and review that, and it makes for a very compelling case against Mr. Pruett,” Choate told The Texas Tribune on Monday.

Last Statement: Offender Richard Masterson #999414 Sending me to a better place.  I am alright with this, you have to live and die by the choices that we make.  I have made mine.  I love you Renee, I am gonna carry your heart and always carry my heart in your heart.  I am ready.

But Pruett’s lawyers fought his execution until the last hour. In his final appeal, he sued in federal court, claiming recent refusals by the trial court and prosecution to proceed with further DNA testing violated his due process rights.

The DNA evidence that was tested and deemed inconclusive by Texas’ high appellate court needs more examination, Pruett argued in court filings, because a partial female profile had been found on the murder weapon in its latest examination. He argued further testing could identify a culprit, but the state argued the weapon was likely contaminated by people on the defense team and journalists who have handled it without gloves since the trial.

Robert Pruett, first imprisoned at age 16, executed in Texas despite questions about evidence (WSWS)

The court found Robert Pruett guilty under Texas’s “law of parties,” under which any who “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid” a person who commits a crime is equally liable, no matter how small his or her role. Even under the prosecution’s version of events, Pruett did not kill the man. Despite the fact that he was a teenager at the time, he was condemned to 99 years in jail, a virtual life sentence.

“The prosecution and the state courts have stood in the way of identifying the actual murderer,”wrote Pruett’s attorney, David Dow, in his filing.

Three levels of federal courts denied this request, with the U.S. Supreme Court issuing its denial around 5:15 p.m.

Last Statement: Offender Pablo Vasquez #999297 I just want to tell my family thank you, my mom and dad and sister and Sabrina. I love you Mercedes. I am sorry to David’s family. This is only way that I can be forgiven. You got your justice right here. That’s it. My trust in Jesus.

While Pruett awaited his execution, the prison guard community remembered Nagle. Nagle was the Beeville president of Texas’ prison guard union, and he uttered his last public words when he went to Austin the same month of his murder to speak of dangerous understaffing in prisons, saying somebody was going to have to die before the state realized it had a problem, according to Lance Lowry, president of the union’s Huntsville chapter.

Lowry said the ratio of prisoners to guards is still dangerously low today, and it was one of the causes of Nagle’s death.

Last Statement: Offender Richard Masterson #999414 Sending me to a better place.  I am alright with this, you have to live and die by the choices that we make.  I have made mine.  I love you Renee, I am gonna carry your heart and always carry my heart in your heart.  I am ready.

“He died alone … he was killed in a room full of inmates,” he said. “Unfortunately, I expect to see more Daniel Nagles in the future here, and that scares me.”

TDCJ issued a statement after the execution saying Pruett was deserving of the death penalty and that Nagle’s sacrifice would never be forgotten.

Last Statement: Offender Arnold Prieto #999149 There are no endings, only beginnings. Love yall, see you soon.

“Pruett … was removed from society after being convicted of murder only to kill again within the confines of TDCJ … We hope tonight’s execution provides some closure for [Nagle’s] family.”

Last Statement: Offender Ray Jasper, #999341 (Written statement)
I just want to make a statement to all my friends, family, and supporters. Thank you all for the love. To the Christian hip-hop community, all the positive brothers I’ve done time with. To all the people that took the time to write a letter. Thank you.
To my family, we are one. To my beautiful daughter, the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you endlessly. I am you and you are me forever.
Lastly to God himself….Thank you being a gracious friend to me. I love you with all my heart, mind, strength, in Jesus name.

(Spoken statement)
I want to say to my family, please take care of each other, stay strong and faithful to God. I thank everyone for supporting me. Christine, I love you. To my daughter: baby, be strong, be positive, have a great life. You know what you meant to me, and I love you. Stay faithful to the Lord. Daughter, I love you, I love you, I love you. May the Lord God almighty in heaven, Jesus Christ see my spirit. Amen.

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