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A jury found Pruett guilty of capital murder in April 2002 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in September 2004.
Pruett, who had previously been scheduled for execution in May 2013, won a stay for DNA testing of a palmprint on the disciplinary report found at the scene of the murder. The results of the DNA test were inconclusive. The trial court found that there was not a reasonable probability that Pruett would have been acquitted had that evidence been available at his trial, and the stay of execution was lifted. He faced three scheduled execution dates in 2015 and 2016, each of which were rescheduled or withdrawn as he pursued appeals challenging his conviction. Pruett won stays for DNA tests on the murder weapon and his clothing, but each time, the courts ruled that nothing was found that changed the case. All of his appeals in state and federal court were denied, including a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court the afternoon of his execution, seeking more DNA testing.
While in prison, Pruett wrote a lengthy autobiography and posted it to the internet. It contained stories of Pruett smoking marijuana and shoplifting while still in elementary school and stealing bicycles, burglarizing cars, and dealing drugs while in junior high school. He wrote that his father killed Ray Yarborough in an argument over some stolen guns and that his father let his brother and him take the fall with him.
In this autobiography, Pruett presented the same version of events of Nagle's death that he gave on the witness stand. He said that Officer Nagle angrily wrote him up for eating his lunch in his hallway, and they had a heated exchange over it. "Sure, everyone knew Nagle was a stickler for the rules," Pruett wrote, "but where was his humanity? Did I have to be treated like scum for eating my lunch?" Nagle then went to use a weight machine in the recreation yard and cut his hand when another inmate jerked the bar, "just playing around with me," as he was inserting the metal pin into the holes on the weights. He used his shirt to stop the blood and then stopped by Nagle's desk to apologize for getting mad and cursing at him. Less than an hour later, the officers and medical staff were rushing Nagle down the hallway on a stretcher.
"Cheers rang out through the gym," Pruett wrote. "No one liked Nagle. He was hard on everyone, inmates and guards alike. I guarantee you that on any given day Nagle had at least 10 heated exchanges with inmates about the rules, and he was constantly chastising the guards for doing their jobs below his standards." He said that when investigators first questioned him about Nagle's death, he answered, "Well, he was an asshole guard. I'm not surprised someone killed him."
Nagle stated that he wrote and posted his story as a warning to young people who live the way he did growing up. "It is my hope that the people who are traveling down the road that ultimately brought me to where I am will review my life and try to avoid the countless mistakes that I've made in life."
Pruett maintained his innocence in an 2013 interview from death row. He said that inmates and corrupt officers colluded to frame him for Nagle's murder. With a previous murder conviction, "I was easy to blame," he said.
The smuggling and corruption problem at the McConnell Unit did not end after the 2000 investigation. In 2009, 32 officers and prisoners at the unit were indicted for smuggling drugs and cell phones after a federal investigation. Another 17 officers there were indicted on smuggling charges in February 2013.
"This is 13 years after, and they are still corrupt over there," Pruett said.
The prison staffing shortage is also still ongoing. Current prison employees' union president Lance Lowry said in 2015 that the oil boom made it difficult to hire workers for the prison units in certain oil-rich regions, such as east and south Texas. "They can go out and drive a truck for twice as much as they'd make in the prison," Lowry said. He agreed with the sentiment Nagle expressed before his death that state lawmakers and officials were not inclined to take the steps needed to solve the problem.
"I think Daniel was right," Lowry said. "It's going to take more people getting killed."
TDCJ spokesman John Hurt acknowledged that the department had a staffing shortage, but said that all "critical security positions are filled." He also said that the department has implemented body alarms, video surveillance systems, and stab-resistent vests to increase security and guard safety. He said that the prison has offered $3,000 hiring bonuses in certain oil-rich areas, but "We're never going to be able to compete financially with the private sector."
About a hundred corrections officers stood in formation outside the Huntsville "Walls" Unit as Pruett was being executed. They were joined by members of the Thin Blue Line motorcycle club. The bikers revved their engines while the execution proceeded, drowning out the voices of the handful of execution protestors who were also outside.
In his last statement, Pruett said he hurt a lot of people and a lot of people hurt him. He said he was sorry and held no grudges. "I've head to learn lessons in life the hard way," he said. "One day there won't be a need to hurt people."
Pruett told his friends who were watching the execution from a viewing room that he loved them. "I'm ready to go, but I'll be back. Nighty night, everybody. I'm done, warden."
The lethal injection was then started. Pruett began chanting "Love, light, is forever, there is no end." He repeated the phrase a few times, his voice increasing in volume. He added obscenities and soon was yelling. He started slurring words before slipping into unconsciousness. He was pronounced dead at 6:46 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 13 October 2017.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Huntsville Item, New York Times, Texas Tribune, robert-pruett.com.