Robert Pruett, 38, maintained his innocence until the end, in the 1999 fatal stabbing of prison guard Daniel Nagle, even though other inmates testified against him
A Texas inmate convicted of the murder of a prison guard was executed late Thursday after the US Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal.
Robert Pruett, 38, maintained his innocence until the end, in the 1999 fatal stabbing of prison guard Daniel Nagle, even though other inmates testified against him.
Pruett was executed at 6:46 p.m. (2346 GMT), about an hour after his final appeals were denied by the US Supreme Court.
The execution was the 20th in the US this year, and the sixth in Texas, which executes more inmates than any other state, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
"I have hurt a lot of people and a lot of people have hurt me," Pruett said in his final statement before being executed, according to a transcript provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"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," he said.
Pruett's attorneys challenged the facts of his death penalty conviction, claiming inmate testimonies were unreliable because they were conflicting and made in exchange for favorable deals. They also claimed that Nagle may have been killed by others looking to cover up corruption at the prison.
As his case wound through the court system for more than a decade, Pruett successfully sought DNA testing of crime scene evidence, such as the handmade weapon used to stab the guard. But, the testing proved inconclusive.
His lawyers filed a last-minute appeal to the Supreme Court to stay his execution to conduct additional DNA testing, but the high court denied the request Thursday.
Pruett's case raised questions about how Texas treats juvenile offenders. He was only 15 years old when he was initially imprisoned. He received a 99-year sentence for being an accessory to a murder committed by his father.
Five years later, Pruett was convicted again for the killing of the guard at the prison where he was serving his sentence, even though no physical evidence tied the young man to the crime.
"At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognise excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett's case shows how young lives can be destroyed," Harvard University criminal justice scholar Nathan Robinson wrote in a New York Times opinion article.
Prosecutors contended that Pruett killed Nagle because the guard had written a disciplinary report against the inmate for eating a sandwich in a prison hallway. The ripped-up report was found at the murder scene.
Pruett maintained that he was framed, and that Nagle was killed because he was going to expose a money laundering scheme involving guards and inmates. Four guards were later arrested.
While in prison, Pruett underwent self-reflection, grew out of the angry and impetuous 15-year-old who was raised amid drugs and violence, and came to believe that his initial harsh prison sentence at a young age was unjust, according to Current Affairs magazine.
"At 15 I was not old enough to be outside after the 11:00pm curfew, I could notwatch R-rated movies without adult supervision, I could not smoke, drink, get a tattoo, own a gun or even drive a car," Pruett wrote in an autobiography excerpted by the magazine.
"Yet I was mature and reasonable enough to make decisions that would impact the rest of my life? Old enough to spend the rest of my life in prison? It is still unfathomable to me."
Pruett went on to write that he believed the death penalty should be abolished, because it did not take into account that people can rehabilitate themselves in prison.
"Many have realised the errors of their ways and would be productive members of society if they were given the chance," Pruett wrote.