Attorney Hoodwinks Trial Court into Halting Murderer's Execution
A death row inmate scheduled for execution this evening at 6 p.m. was granted a last-minute stay of execution, effectively halting the prescribed lethal injection as his evidence is tested for DNA.
The stay was ordered by the 156th Judicial District Court in Bee County at around 4 p.m., just two hours before Robert Lynn Pruett, was scheduled to be executed, TDCJ Public Information Director Jason Clark relayed.
Pruett, 35, was to be executed for killing 37-year-old correctional officer Daniel Nagle on Dec. 17, 1999 at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, where he was serving a 99 year sentence for a murder committed with his father and brother in 1995, when he was 15 years old. According to court documents, Pruett was convicted of killing Nagle, who had written a disciplinary report on him for taking a sack lunch into the rec yard.
Nagle was stabbed multiple times with an eight-inch shank, and when his body was found, Pruett’s disciplinary report was located next to his body in shreds. Blood found on the paper bits tested positive for Nagle, however Pruett’s DNA was never found on the murder weapon or on Nagle himself.
During the trial, the state presented a largely circumstantial case that centered on the disciplinary report and testimony from other inmates and officers. Pruett maintained his innocence in both Nagle's killing and in the murder of Ray Yarborough, for which he was serving a life term, stating, "I never killed nobody". Yarborough, Pruett said, was killed by his father.
Pruett was convicted of the killing the correctional officer on April 23 2002, and has appealed his case multiple times, including once in 2013 when his attorney filed a motion for post-conviction DNA and palm print testing on the shank. A Bee County court granted the motion, however the test results were inconclusive. His appeal was then denied.
On April 16, Pruett’s attorney, Texas Innocence Network Founder David R. Dow, began seeking information on testing the shank and the tape wrapped around the grip for DNA using “newer techniques”.
The state responded the following day, referring Dow’s office to the forensic lab, however Dow did not contact the lab until April 26, some 10 days later.
In the order issued this afternoon, the court expressed feeling as if the attorney had attempted to hoodwink the judicial system, but nonetheless stayed the execution until further testing is completed.
“This court has no doubt the request for the proposed DNA testing was made to delay the execution of sentence,” the order states. “However, at this point, although such delay tactics appear to be unreasonable, it is not clear that they, in fact, are unreasonable. Although unlikely, it is not impossible to conceive that there could be exculpatory results. Therefore, given the circumstances and the timing, this court is hesitant to punish Applicant for his attorney’s dilatory tactics.”
The order concludes by granting the motion for DNA testing, with results to be made available by May 28. At the present, Pruett has additional appeals pending, including one with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The inmate maintains a website run by those close to him that includes journal entries, updates on his case and an autobiography. He was also the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Life and Death Row".