Robert Lynn Pruett, 38, was executed by lethal injection on 12 October 2017 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a correctional officer while in prison.
On 17 December 1999 at the McConnell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Beeville, Pruett, a 20-year-old inmate, was taken to get new work boots, causing him to miss the distribution of hot lunches. Pruett received a sack lunch instead. He took his lunch into a recreation area, which was a violation of prison rules. Lieutenant Daniel Nagle informed Pruett that he would have to eat his lunch before entering the recreation area and wrote a disciplinary charge against him.
Later that afternoon, Nagle was stabbed eight times with a shank made of a sharpened metal rod wrapped with tape at the dull end. He died at the scene. The murder weapon was found there, along with the disciplinary report he had written on Pruett. The report had been torn into several pieces.
An autopsy showed that Nagle died of a heart attack suffered during the assault.
Pruett was serving a 99-year sentence for his role as an accomplice in a murder of a neighbor, Ray Yarborough, that his father committed when Pruett was 15. Pruett's father and brother were also convicted for their roles in the killing.
At the time of the killing, Nagle was the only correctional officer on duty in the cellblock due to statewide shortages in prison staffing. Two weeks earlier, he had been in Austin, leading a rally to ask lawmakers at the state capitol to increase officer pay so that more guards could be hired. The prison employees' union had been at odds with the prison administration for months over whether a staffing shortage was compromising safety.
"Someone will have to be killed before the Texas Department of Criminal Justice does anything about the shortage of staff in Texas prisons," Nagle said from the capitol steps.
At Pruett's trial, which was transferred to Corpus Christi in Nueces County, inmate Anthony Casey testified that on the day of the murder, he heard Pruett talking to another inmate about a weapon. Pruett also told Casey that "something was going to happen" and instructed him not to enter the room adjacent to Nagle's office. Casey then saw Pruett through a window standing near Nagle's desk. He then saw Pruett remove his clothes in a hallway and change into another set of clothes provided by another inmate. Pruett pushed his clothing through a "gas port" into the recreation yard. Casey picked the discarded clothes up, observed blood on them, and placed them in a box.
At least six other inmates testified that they witnessed the attack, that Pruett told them he intended to kill Nagle, or saw Pruett exhibiting excited and jovial behavior immediately following Nagle's death. TDCJ official John Lee Davis testified that after Pruett was arrested, he said, "Go ahead and run that disciplinary case on me now. I want to call my first witness, Officer Nagle. Oops, he's dead." Davis testified that Pruett then began laughing.
Pruett testified that at the time Nagle wrote him up for the lunch violation, he already had another disciplinary report for gambling. He decided to go talk to Nagle in his office, and Nagle tore up the report. Pruett testified that he had cut his hand while lifting weights in the recreation yard and had used his shirt to stop the bleeding. He learned about Nagle's death afterward.
In March 2000, three months after Nagle's murder, four McConnell Unit correctional officers were arrested for their role in smuggling drugs into the prison. The defense at Pruett's trial theorized that Nagle may have been murdered for being an informant in the investigation that lead to those arrests. Pruett's attorney questioned McConnell Unit Warden Thomas J. Prasifka about this outside of the jury's presence. Prasifka answered that Nagle did not act as an informant and had no formal role in the investigation, but admitted that he might have provided the names of corrupt officers or involved inmates to investigators. The trial judge, calling the defense's theory "nothing more than speculation," did not permit Pruett's attorney to question Prasifka in front of the jury.
The defense claimed that Pruett was innocent of the killing and had been framed with the torn-up disciplinary report. The defense presented inmate testimony that conflicted with Casey's and that implied Casey made a deal with prison officials to implicate Pruett. Inmate Kevin Veschi stated that after he agreed to testify in favor of Pruett's innocence, his showering and recreation privileges were revoked.
In addition to his murder conviction, Pruett had an arrest for burglarizing a residence at age 15.
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