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A Texas inmate being executed for slitting the throat of a prison supervisor declined making any final statements Wednesday, but then uttered “woof, woof!” just moments before he slipped into unconsciousness.
Travis Runnels, 46, died by lethal injection Wednesday night at the state penitentiary in Huntsville despite attempts by his legal team to halt to execution because of false information they say had been presented during his trial, according to the Texas Tribune.
Runnels was convicted of slicing open the throat of his supervisor at a prison shoe factory in 2003. He had been angry about working as a janitor at the factory when he took a knife used to trim shoes, pulled 38-year-old Stanley Wiley’s head back and cut through his trachea all the way through to his spinal cord, the Associated Press reports.
Runnels had wanted to work in the prison barbershop.
When the 2003 murder was carried out, Runnels was already serving a 70-year sentence for aggravated robbery, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Runnels agreed to plead guilty to Wiley’s murder, but it was during the sentencing hearing that his attorneys said false information was provided to the jurors that could have impacted their decision to sentence him to death.
A.P. Merillat, an investigator at the time with the state’s Special Prosecution Unit, testified that if Runnels was sentenced to life in prison he’d likely be placed in general population and would have the opportunity to hurt others.
He testified that incoming inmates who had a capital murder charge were automatically given a mid-level “G3” security classification that would allow them to live in units where they could walk freely from their cells and take part in group activities and work assignments.
But Runnels’ attorneys claim that information was false and said the prison system did not make automatic assignments but used an individualized classification system. Just before his trial, prison officials had also decided that those prisoners who had assaulted staff in the past were not able to have “G3” status and would be placed in more restrictive units, the local paper reports. Given the nature of Runnels’ crime, he likely would have been placed in solitary confinement, his attorneys said.
His defense team believes that information could have altered the jury’s decision.
“When the average person thinks about what justice is supposed to be about in this country, it’s supposed to be about finding the truth,” defense attorney Mark Pickett told The Chronicle. “Travis, just like anybody in this country, deserves a trial where people aren’t lying. No matter what you did, what the jury should be hearing is the truth.”
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had overturned the death sentences for two other inmates after deciding that Merillat had given false information.
The state had argued, however, that attacks Runnels’ committed against other guards after Wiley’s death, including throwing feces, urine and a light bulb at guards, indicate he would have been a danger to others.
“The jury would undoubtedly have found Runnels to be a future danger no matter how strict his classification,” Texas Assistant Attorney General Jefferson Clendenin wrote to the Supreme Court on Monday, according to the Texas Tribune.
The U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by Runnels’ attorneys Wednesday night just before 7 p.m. Runnels was then strapped down to the death chamber gurney and given an opportunity to say his final words as three female friends and two of his attorneys watched from a nearby window.
The victim’s sister and brother-in-law also watched from another room.
Runnels said he had no final statement and the lethal dose of pentobarbital began. He mouthed words and blew a kiss toward his friends, then said “woof, woof!” according to the AP. Runnels then took four short breaths, snored and then stopped moving.
He was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m.
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