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Judge Stays Execution for Further DNA Testing

Two hours before his scheduled execution, Robert Lynn Pruett received a stay so more DNA tests can be conducted on evidence from the 1999 murder of a Texas prison guard.

Robert Pruett was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of prison guard Daniel Nagle. Pruett says he was framed by corrupt guards and inmates while the prison employee union says chronic understaffing led to Nagle's murder.

A state district judge granted a last-minute stay Tuesday for condemned inmate Robert Lynn Pruett, agreeing that tape covering the handle of a homemade knife used in the fatal stabbing of a Texas prison guard could be submitted for DNA testing to see if the results clear Pruett.

Judge Bert Richardson granted Pruett’s request for the testing two hours before the 35-year-old was to be executed. Richardson, a member of the Court of Criminal Appeals, was acting in his capacity as the judge assigned to preside over the Bee County case.

In his order, Richardson indicated his reluctance to grant the request and criticized attorney David Dow for apparent delaying tactics. "The court has no doubt the request for the proposed DNA testing was made to delay the execution of sentence," Richardson wrote. "However, at this point, although such delay tactics appear to be unreasonable, it is not clear that they, in fact, are unreasonable. Although unlikely, it is not impossible to conceive that there could be exculpatory results."

Richardson noted: “The state has made all of the evidence in the case available for DNA testing for over fifteen years. In fact, Applicant made a previous motion for DNA testing, which was granted in 2013, and the results were inconclusive. However, Applicant did not request that the shank and the tape wrapped around the handle be tested in his 2013 motion.”

Richardson said he was hesitant to punish Pruett for his attorney’s actions, and ordered that the DNA testing results be made available to the court by May 28.

Pruett was convicted of capital murder in the 1999 stabbing death of Daniel Nagle, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officer.

According to court documents, Pruett was serving a 99-year sentence at the McConnell Unit in Bee County for his role in a Houston-area murder when he attempted to take his sack lunch into the prison's recreation area, in violation of the prison's rules.

Pruett was stopped by Nagle and informed a disciplinary memo would be filed against him for the infraction. Nagle was found later in his office, stabbed seven times. He died of a heart attack. A shank made of a metal rod sharpened at one end was found near the body, along with the torn-up disciplinary memo against Pruett.

Pruett has insisted he is innocent and claims he was framed. He testified at his trial that he was in another part of the prison when the murder occurred.

Had the execution proceeded, the state of Texas would be near the end of its current supply of pentobarbital, the drug used by TDCJ to execute prisoners.

Agency spokesman Jason Clark confirmed Monday that the agency only had enough pentobarbital for two more executions, including Pruett's. 

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