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Texas executed John Hummel Wednesday evening for the 2009 murders of his family members.
Hummel, 45, was sentenced to death by a Tarrant County jury in 2011 after the slayings of his pregnant wife, his 5-year-old daughter and his father-in-law at their Kennedale home. Police found their burned, beaten bodies in or near their beds after responding to an early morning fire, according to court records. Officials determined that they died by blunt-force injuries before the fire was set.
In his first interview with police, Hummel said he was at a store and not home at the time of the crime. But after he was later apprehended at the California-Mexico border, he confessed to stabbing and beating his wife before beating the other two victims and setting fire to his house, records show. Weapons later found in a dumpster matched his and the victims’ DNA, investigators said.
Shortly after 6 p.m., Hummel was escorted into the state's death chamber in Huntsville. He was pronounced dead at 6:49 p.m., 13 minutes after he was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, according to prison reports.
"I truly regret killing my family," Hummel said on the gurney in his final statement. "I am thankful for all the thoughts and prayers for my family over the last few days. I love each and every one you."
Hummel’s appeals — including a push last year to have the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office taken off his case because his defense attorney at trial had become a leader in the prosecutor’s office — had been denied before Wednesday.
Last week, however, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas sought to stop his execution because prison officials failed to let reporters witness a May execution for the first time in the history of the state's modern death penalty. Reporters for the Associated Press and the Huntsville Item, who attend every execution, were left waiting to be escorted from prison administrative offices across the street when Quinton Jones was killed. The same reporters were able to witness Hummel's execution Wednesday, Joseph Brown of the Huntsville newspaper, The Item, confirmed.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has said excluding the onsite reporters was a mistake, and has assured that media will be allowed in the future to observe as the state wields its greatest power over life. The agency blamed new execution staff, a revised execution protocol and a lack of oversight, according to a TDCJ statement.
“A culmination of factors caused the incident which was preventable and inexcusable,” the department said in its statement last week. “The agency has since taken steps to address it to include administrative action involving multiple employees and building in redundancies to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again.”
Still, the ACLU of Texas had urged the agency's executive director to ask the governor to postpone Hummel’s execution by 30 days to further address the problem.
“These events were of major concern to the media, the public, and the ACLU,” the letter stated. “TDCJ broke its own protocols and carried out an unconstitutional execution.”
Nationwide, reporters have served as watchdogs in botched executions in states that struggle to find lethal injection drugs as capital punishment’s popularity wanes. And Texas media reports often provide detail excluded from agency accounts of executions — like prisoners describing a burning sensation after lethal drugs are injected in their veins.
“Due to TDCJ’s failures, the public will never have a media account of the execution of Mr. Jones last month,” the ACLU of Texas wrote.
Jeremy Desel, a prison spokesperson, said Tuesday that the agency’s leader, Bryan Collier, did not ask the governor to delay Hummel's execution.
TDCJ said it had since enhanced staff training on execution processes and added an agency director to oversee them. The agency also said employees had been disciplined, but Desel said Tuesday he did not know details on the type of discipline or how many employees were punished.
After the execution, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said in a statement that the death penalty should be reserved for the worst crimes.
"John Hummel’s actions were unconscionable," she added.
Hummel’s execution, originally set for last March, was the first in the state to be taken off the calendar because of the coronavirus pandemic. Texas has executed two people in the pandemic — Billy Wardlow last July and Jones last month. That’s an exceptionally low number for Texas, which leads the nation by far in executions. Aside from Hummel, four other men’s executions were halted because of public health concerns.
So far, four other men are scheduled to be executed in Texas in 2021. Only one other execution in the nation is scheduled for 2021, in Nevada, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.