HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- A Texas judge has halted the execution of an inmate convicted of stabbing a corrections officer to death more than 15 years ago.
State District Judge Bert Richardson issued the reprieve just hours before 35-year-old Robert Pruett could have been taken to the Texas death chamber for lethal injection Tuesday evening. Richardson is Pruett's trial judge.
The judge blocked the punishment after Pruett's attorneys asked for DNA testing on the piece of metal used to kill 37-year-old Daniel Nagle in 1999 at a South Texas prison.
Pruett would have become the seventh inmate put to death this year in Texas. His lawyers argued that he was innocent Nagle's killing.
Jefferson Clendenin, an assistant Texas attorney general, argued that the mitigating evidence was presented at his trial and Pruett had failed to show any of the evidence was previously unavailable.
Clendenin also argued that no state law covers the storage of evidence, and that the Texas Department of Public Safety guidelines weren't published until 2012, a decade after Pruett's trial. Halting Pruett's punishment now for a potential advancement in DNA technology would allow any death row inmate to obtain an indefinite stay of execution by arguing "that science at some unknown point in the future might cast doubt on his conviction," Clendenin told the Supreme Court in a filing Tuesday.
Pruett, now 35, was imprisoned at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice McConnell Unit when he got into a fatal fight with Nagle over a peanut butter sandwich.
Evidence showed Pruett wanted to take his bag lunch into a recreation yard, but this was against the rules, so Nagle wrote a disciplinary report. Prosecutors said this angered Pruett who stabbed Nagle with a 7-inch-long sharpened metal rod.
Pruett said Nagle tore up the disciplinary report containing his name and that he was in a gym when he found out the officer had been killed.
DNA tests requested by Pruett's lawyers on pieces of the report found scattered around Nagle's body were inconclusive.
Pruett insisted Nagle could have been killed by other inmates or prison officers.
"I never killed nobody in my life," Pruett told jurors at his 2002 trial in Corpus Christi.
Pruett was already serving a 99-year sentence for his part in the 1995 slaying of a neighbor in Channelview, east of Houston. His father is serving life in prison in the killing and his brother has a 40-year sentence.
Texas carries out capital punishment more than any other state.