October 13, 2012 http://www.therepublic.com/
HOUSTON — Four years after his threatening calls from a smuggled cell phone prompted an unprecedented lockdown of the entire Texas prison system, death row inmate Richard Tabler is chafing at 24-hour video surveillance in his cell, a ban on nearly all visitors and his unsuccessful efforts to waive his appeals and expedite his execution.
The convicted killer recently sent a handwritten letter to The Associated Press blaming his “idiotic” cell phone use for his isolation and the court’s refusal to comply with his request for a speedy execution.
“It’s no longer about justice,” Tabler wrote in the four-page letter received this month by the AP.
“The only reason I’m still here … is because of the political bull crap surrounding the cell phone situation.”
Tabler, 33, who has been on death row for five years, gained notoriety in October 2008 when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice disclosed he had used a cell phone smuggled into his prison to repeatedly call, among others, a Texas lawmaker.
He has asked the court on multiple occasions to waive his appeal and schedule an execution for killing two people in 2004, but a judge last year denied the request. His lawyers are also opposed Tabler’s efforts and have raised questions over whether he is competent to make such a decision.
“He and I reached an understanding a long time ago that I wasn’t going to help him to die but I wouldn’t stand in his way, so to speak,” said lawyer David Schulman, who’s long been involved in Tabler’s case and visits the inmate. “All we’ve done is challenge his competency and go through the writ process. … It’s not a pleasant situation for anybody involved. Certainly none of his lawyers are having a good time.”
While illegal cell phones have plagued prisons nationwide, it was Tabler’s brazen, threatening calls to state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate panel that oversees the prison agency, that gave the inmate instant notoriety. Those calls were among more than 2,800 traced to Tabler’s phone, which apparently got passed around to other inmates on his death row wing at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston in East Texas.
Texas prison officials locked down more than 150,000 inmates statewide — some of them confined to their cells for weeks — while officers swept the state’s more than 100 prisons to seize hundreds of items of contraband, including cell phones and items related to them.
Since then Tabler has received round-the-clock monitoring on a prison wing normally reserved for inmates with execution dates, while his visitors are restricted to his spiritual adviser and lawyers.
Prison officials defend their treatment of Tabler, noting his troubled history behind bars.
“This offender presents a security risk because of his numerous disciplinary infractions, including obtaining contraband,” prison agency spokesman Jason Clark said. “The housing area is not exclusively for offenders on death watch and can be utilized by the agency to monitor those who attempt to break the rules or harm themselves.”
Tabler’s prison record includes at least two instances where he’s tried kill himself.
His restrictions also prohibit him from visits with reporters.
“That makes you wonder what they don’t want me telling the media,” Tabler wrote.
Tabler repeatedly has asked his appeals be dropped and he be put to death for gunning down Mohammed-Amine Rahmouni, 28, and Haitham Zayed, 25, in 2004 in a remote area of Killeen in Central Texas. Evidence showed Rahmouni was manager of a strip club who banned Tabler from his place. Zayed was a friend of Rahmouni. Tabler also has acknowledged killing two dancers from the club, was charged with their slayings but hasn’t been tried.
“Please understand that I’ve never questioned my death sentence, as I’ve admitted/confessed to my crime,” Tabler wrote. “I’m guilty, no question about it.
“I’m no saint … but at least I’m man enough to take responsibility and not lie about it.”
Last year, a federal judge conducted a hearing on Tabler’s motion seeking execution, ultimately ruling Tabler’s belief his family was in danger if he didn’t go through with the punishment made the request involuntary. Earlier this year, Tabler wrote the judge again seeking execution, but his lawyer and state attorneys opposed the request and the judge agreed with them and denied Tabler. The nature of the family threats is unclear.
Tabler’s case is on appeal at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals with a newly assigned lawyer who’s obtained a time extension to mid-December to get familiar with the case. The appeal rejected by a federal judge in Waco raised questions over whether Tabler is mentally ill and incompetent to decide whether to volunteer for execution and challenged issues from his 2007 trial.
“He lives under pretty harsh conditions at the prison … and his conditions are more onerous than other people,” said Marcy Widder, his court-appointed attorney. “It has some connection to the cell phone mess.”
Schulman said he believes the courts are being careful with Tabler’s requests to die.
“Think of the situation,” Schulman said. “In one hand he’s telling them I want to die. On the other hand, he’s telling them they’re making my life miserable.”