Robert Pruett was executed in Texas in October. The 38-year-old received the death penalty despite little evidence linking him to the crime and concerns over the use of so-called “junk science.”
Pruett was sentenced to death after he was convicted of the 1999 murder of Daniel Nagle, a correctional officer working at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas.
Robert Pruett was in the prison for a 99-year sentence. He was an accomplice to a murder his father committed. Pruett’s execution date was staved off twice but last-minute legal maneuvers failed ahead of the October execution.
Daniel Nagle, the prison guard, was 37 when he was stabbed numerous times with a makeshift dagger in a Beeville prison. His body was discovered in a pool of blood by a ripped-up disciplinary report he wrote against Pruett.
At the time of the killing, Pruett had already been imprisoned for years. He was convicted as an accomplice and sentenced to 99 years. His father committed the murder when Pruett was just 15.
Prosecutors pointed the finger at Pruett over the guard’s death, alluding to the report. Pruett repeatedly said he was innocent.
Pruett said he had been framed by corrupt guards and inmates who Nagle was writing a “lengthy grievance,” about, according to court filings.
An article in Mother Jones suggested Pruett was a victim of the criminal justice system from the time he was imprisoned at the age of 15.
The article pointed out no witnesses came forward at the time the guard was killed.
Two years passed between the original indictment and the trial. The state was not able to find any physical evidence connecting Pruett to the officer’s murder.
At Pruett’s capital murder trial, the state claimed his cellmate, who worked in the craft shop at the prison, gave Pruett tape that he then used to wrap around the handle of the shank used to kill the guard.
The state relied on the testimony of forensic analyst Lisa Baylor, who testified, using a debunked scientific method called “physical matching.” She said the tape originally came from the craft shop.
Kristin Houlé, the executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, was critical of the evidence against Pruett. She said:
“In a lot of cases where there’s no physical evidence that directly ties the defendant to the crime scene, [the prosecution] will find experts who fit their theory of the crime.”
Houlé said there was no evidence like fingerprint and cell evidence to match Pruett to the tape.
In a petition for clemency, Pruett’s lawyers said DNA testing of the murder weapon in 2015 found DNA failed to match either Pruett or the victim.
Pruett’s attorneys suggested it might belong to the person that killed Nagle.
If Pruett did not kill the guard he likely would not be the only innocent man executed in Texas.
The Death Penalty Information Center publishes a list of “executed but possibly innocent’ inmates.
They include Carlos DeLuna who was executed in Texas in 1989. Years later in 2006, a Chicago Tribune investigation revealed new evidence that Texas may have executed the wrong man.
DeLuna was executed for the deadly stabbing of a convenience store clerk in 1983. New evidence uncovered by two reporters cast doubt on his guilt and pointed towards another suspect, Carlos Hernandez, with a record of similar crimes who repeatedly confessed to the murder.
If you have been charged with a serious crime like a homicide you could pay the ultimate penalty in Texas. Call our Fort Worth criminal defense lawyers today.