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Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

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Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Texas: Just because you have a right to a lawyer, doesn't mean that they have to be any good

Manuel Fernando Garza
Manuel Fernando Garza
On Feb. 2, 2001, moments after being confronted by the San Antonio policeman who would soon learn of his warrants, 20-year-old Manuel Fernando Garza escaped Officer John Riojas' grip and sprinted down the street. Riojas gave chase and eventually caught up with Garza, who continued to resist arrest. Riojas pulled his gun out, and Garza took it from him. Garza fired 1 shot that ended up killing Riojas on the spot.

Garza was arrested Feb. 4 and appointed an attorney on Feb. 14. He hardly stood a chance at escaping the death penalty from that moment on.

On Feb. 21, one week after being appointed by the court to Garza's case, his attorney withdrew on account of being unqualified to argue capital cases. 2 new attorneys were placed on Garza's case that day, but 17 months later, when the first chair withdrew so that he could go on his vacation, neither had put any investigative work in. Same goes for the investigator appointed to Garza's case May 8, 2001: He ultimately left the case after losing his license; he had not made any requests for discovery.

Vincent Callahan was then appointed as Garza's 1st-chair counsel on July 19, 2002. He was friends with Edward Camara, Garza's 2nd chair, and, according to Camara, "pretty well not very reliable as far as putting necessary work on a case." The 2 devised a plan: Camara would handle the jury selection, and Callahan would work on Garza's punishment. Both decided to dedicate no resources to mitigation, aside from a mitigation specialist who billed Garza's camp for 12.75 hours. A psychologist also met with Garza for 2 hours before being told (by Callahan and Camara) to cut his efforts short.

Jury selection began Aug. 30 and lasted over a month. The trial, held in October, took less than 1/3 of that time. Garza was convicted of capital murder on Oct. 24; he received his death sentence 5 days later.

San Antonio attorney Michael Gross attempted to argue ineffective assistance of counsel in a 2004 application to the state for a writ of habeas corpus. The 162-page writ laid out 9 claims, but it was denied in 2008. A federal habeas petition was stayed the following year while Garza exhausted his remedies at the state level, and an amended version was filed and then denied by the federal court in 2012. In 2013, an appeal to the Fifth Circuit was also denied, as was a subsequent appeal for a certificate of appealability. A 2014 writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in June.

Now 35, Garza is set for execution next Wednesday, April 15. He'll be the 6th Texan executed this year and 524th since the state's reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

Source: Austin Chronicle, Death Watch, Chase Hoffberger, April 10, 2015

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