Robert Pruett alleges he was framed by other inmates in killing of guard Daniel Nagle but prosecutors said Pruett was upset over disciplinary infraction
A Texas inmate who was convicted of murder based on testimony from other prisoners has asked the US supreme court to block his scheduled execution on Tuesday night.
No physical evidence linked Robert Pruett to the murder of Daniel Nagle, a corrections officer stabbed with a sharpened metal shank inside his office in a prison near Corpus Christi in 1999.
“Not a single iota of physical evidence connected Mr Pruett to this crime,” lawyer David Dow said in a federal court filing.
But several inmates testified that they either saw Pruett attack Nagle or heard him talk about planning the assault. Some were granted favourable treatment including recommendations for early parole as a reward for their testimony. Prisoners willing to testify on Pruett’s behalf backed out for fear of reprisals.
Only two weeks earlier, Nagle had addressed a rally at the Texas statehouse and demanded a pay raise for corrections officers, warning that staff shortages were so acute that lives were in danger.
Pruett, now 35, argued that he was framed by others who wanted Nagle dead because they feared he was about to expose a drug smuggling and money laundering ring at the prison. Three days after the murder there was an 80-strong riot in the prison. The following month, three guards at the same unit were charged with money laundering on behalf of inmates.
The Texas Observer wrote in 2000: “About a month before his death, Nagle’s name was reportedly discovered on a ‘kite’, a clandestine note from one inmate to another. The warden reportedly warned Nagle that the note was a hit list, and that one or another prison gang wanted the officer dead.”
The prosecution contended that Pruett killed Nagle in a fit of pique because the officer disciplined him for eating a packed lunch in an unauthorised area. The torn-up disciplinary report was found next to his body. DNA testing on the murder weapon was inconclusive. Pruett had a cut on his hand, which he said came from a gym accident.
He was 20 at the time of the murder and serving a 99-year sentence for being an accomplice, aged 15, in a killing committed by his father. He was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury in 2002 and has mounted numerous unsuccessful appeals. The federal fifth circuit court denied an appeal last Friday, but acknowledged that trial testimony had disclosed “problems with the inmates’ credibility”.
Source: The Guardian, Tom Dart, April 27, 2015
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