death row inmate

TENNESSEE- Execution date set for inmate on death row since 1978 – Donald Wayne

april 9, 2014

Tennessee wants to execute death row’s longest-standing resident.

Donald Wayne Strouth, 55, has been on death row since 1978 for the murder of a second-hand store owner in Kingsport. He’s accused of knocking out and slashing the throat of Jimmy Keegan in a robbery, leaving his body behind in his store, where his wife later found him.

Strouth, who was known to carry a hawkbill knife, was seen by witnesses afterward with blood still on his hands.

He outlived the man who was convicted alongside him, Jeffrey Dicks. Dicks, like most death row inmates over the past decade or so, died not by execution but by natural causes when he suffered a heart attack in 1999.

But Tuesday, Tennessee’s Supreme Court set a date for Strouth’s execution: March 15, 2016.

It may seem far off, but the justices built in time for an ongoing lawsuit dealing with the secrecy of Tennessee’s death penalty to run its course. Eleven death row inmates are suing the state to turn over details about how it plans to perform its lethal injection, trying to overcome a 2013 law that sealed many of those details behind a veil of secrecy. They argue that if they don’t know what the state is using to kill them and where it came from, there’s no way to know whether the execution meets constitutional safeguards against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

That lawsuit, which is ongoing, has pushed back at least one execution date.

Strouth has argued that he suffers from brain damage and mental illness, but the state’s Supreme Court was unswayed.

He is at least the 10th death row inmate to have an execution date. Billy Ray Irick, who raped and murdered a 7-year-old Knoxville girl in 1985, is scheduled to die first, on Oct. 7. The state is awaiting an execution date for an 11th inmate.

Tennessee has not executed a prisoner since 2009.

The Ghost of Herbert Smulls Haunts Missouri’s Death Penalty Plans

february 21, 2014 (theatlantic)

It has been only 21 days since Missouri began to execute convicted murderer Herbert Smulls some 13 minutes before the justices of the United States Supreme Court denied his final request for  stay. And it is fair to say that the past three weeks in the state’s history of capital punishment have been marked by an unusual degree of chaos, especially for those Missouri officials who acted so hastily in the days leading up to Smulls’ death. A state that made the choice to take the offensive on the death penalty now finds itself on the defensive in virtually every way.

Whereas state officials once rushed toward executions—three in the past three months, each of which raised serious constitutional questions—now there is grave doubt about whether an execution scheduled for next Wednesday, or the one after that for that matter, will take place at all. Whereas state officials once boasted that they had a legal right to execute men even while federal judges were contemplating their stay requests now there are humble words of contrition from state lawyers toward an awakened and angry judiciary.

Now we know that the Chief Judge of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, are aware there are problems with how Missouri is executing these men. Now there are fresh new questions about the drug(s) to be used to accomplish this goal. Now there are concerns about the accuracy of the statements made by state officials in defending their extraordinary conduct. Herbert Smulls may be dead and gone but his case and his cause continue to hang over this state like a ghost.

The Supreme Court Wants Answers

Missouri’s problems started almost immediately after Smulls was executed on January 29. On January 30, the Associated Press published a story titled: “Lawyers: Mo. Moving Too Quickly on Executions” in which it was disclosed, for the first time to a national audience, that state officials were executing prisoners before their appeals were exhausted. On February 1, we posted a piece here at The Atlantic titled: “Missouri Executed This Man While His Appeals Was Pending in Court,” in which we published emails from Smulls’ attorneys to Missouri officials showing that the state was aware that Smulls’ appeal was pending at the Supreme Court at the very moment he was being injected with lethal drugs.

Clearly, the justices in Washington were paying close attention to what Missouri had done (killed Smulls) and not done (waited for the justices to tell them they could). On February 3, five days after Smulls’ execution, the Clerk of the Court wrote to Missouri officials directing them to file a second response to a petition for certiorari that had been filed on behalf of Smulls and several other death row inmates (who are still alive). The request demonstrated, at the least, that the Court did not consider Smulls’ final appeal to be frivolous. Here is the link to that letter. Missouri’s response is due March 5. I am curious to know whether state officials reveal any regret for the timing of the Smulls’ execution.

A Roiling Hearing

One week after Missouri received that letter from the Supreme Court, state officials appeared at a legislative hearing to discuss and defend Missouri’s execution protocols. David Hansen, a state assistant attorney general, spoke at length about the Smulls’ execution. There was no stay in effect at the time of the condemned man’s execution, Hansen told lawmakers, and the controversy over premature executions was caused not by overzealous state officials but rather by “death row attorneys” who, he said, “have developed a legitimate and very deliberate strategy to ensure that there is always a stay motion pending during the course of the [death] warrant which is a de facto repeal of the death penalty.”

Here is the link to much of Hansen’s testimony. It was confident. It was defiant. And in several material respects, it was inaccurate. For example, Hansen quoted James Liebman, the distinguished professor at Columbia Law School, for the proposition that what Missouri has been doing is also being done in other states. But Liebman did not say that and was so dismayed by the misuse of his words that he submitted a letter late Tuesday night to Missouri’s lawmakers seeking to clarify the record. Here is the link to Liebman’s letter. And here is the essence of his position on the inappropriateness of Missouri’s current execution protocol:

I pointed out that the Supreme Court has occasionally issued orders in capital cases saying it will no longer entertain papers from a particular capital prisoner, having found that previous papers filed were frivolous. I pointed out that, if Missouri believed that this same point had been reached in Mr. Smulls’ case—a conclusion that Mr. Smulls and his attorneys strongly disputed—it would not be appropriate for one adversary to resolve that matter unilaterally over the objection of the other.

Instead, Mr. Hansen’s office should have formally asked the Supreme Court to deny Mr. Smulls’ pending papers and to refuse to accept further papers from him, thus allowing the state to proceed with an execution without fear that the legal basis for that solemn and irreversible action was in doubt. Only then would the crucial contested matter of law and fact have been resolved, not unilaterally by one party to the dispute, but by the decision of a neutral court of law.

This was not the only problem with Hansen’s testimony. Joseph W. Luby, an attorney for Smulls and other death row inmates in the state, also felt compelled to write a letter to Missouri lawmakers seeking to correct the record that Hansen had created. Not only had Hansen mischaracterized the procedural posture of the three cases in which Missouri had executed inmates before their appeals were exhausted, Luby wrote, but state officials were engaged in a pattern and practice of not even responding to opposing counsel in the final hours and minutes before executions. Here is the link to Luby’s letter. He didn’t say it but I will: This is inappropriate and perhaps unethical conduct by of state lawyers.

Another Federal Judge Calls Out Missouri

Two days after that hearing, on February 12, the Chief Judge of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, William Jay Riley, who repeatedly had voted against Smulls, interrupted oral argument in an unrelated death penalty case to tell a lawyer for the State Attorney’s General office that the federal appeals panel did not in any event appreciate Missouri officials executing men before the courts had concluded their judicial review. Specifically, Chief Judge Riley said:

I might just tell you this. I’ll probably regret saying this later, but I think it was the execution of Nicklasson, but the State of Missouri executed somebody which they probably had the right to do, right in the middle of our petition for rehearing voting. And I just wanted you to take back the word that… some of the members of the Court did not appreciate that. That we were right in the middle of that…

And I think you have probably heard that some people have written on it. But we were moving as fast as we can and, as Chief Judge, I was pushing to get everything done in time. But I think you need to be a little more patient.

The “Nicklasson execution” to which the Chief Judge referred, took place on December 12 and it prompted from 8th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Kermit Bye a remarkable dissent. “I feel obliged to say something,’ Judge Bye wrote at the time, “because I am alarmed that Missouri proceeded with its execution of Allen Nicklasson before this court had even finished voting on Nicklasson’s request for a stay.” He continued:

In my near fourteen years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening. By proceeding with Nicklasson’s execution before our court had completed voting on his petition for rehearing en banc, Missouri violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the long litany of cases warning Missouri to stay executions while federal review of an inmate’s constitutional challenge is still pending.”

Here are the links to Judge Bye’s first and second dissents in these premature execution cases.

The Drug Supplier Bags Out

Seven days after Chief Judge Riley’s admonition, this past Monday, came the next bad thing to happen to Missouri officials in their quest to expedite the implementation of the death penalty in their state.  Under legal pressure from death row inmate Michael Taylor, the compounding pharmacy that was poised to supply the drug (pentobarbital) the state wanted to use to execute him next week backed out of its commitment to provide the drug. The Apothecary Shoppe, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, announced that it would not give the Missouri Department of Corrections the pentobarbital it had compounded and that it had not previously given state officials the drug for Taylor’s execution.

Missouri immediately reacted to this unexpected news by declaring that it would be able to proceed anyway with Taylor’s execution, now scheduled for the 26th, without materially changing its lethal injection protocols. Late Wednesday, state officials informed Taylor’s lawyers that they have obtained pentobarbital from another, unidentified supplier. “There is no reason to believe that the execution will not, like previous Missouri executions using pentobarbital, be rapid and painless,” state attorneys wrote in a motion filed with a federal trial judge in Missouri opposing a stay request by Taylor. Here is the link to Missouri’s filing.

A New Challenge to Missouri’s Lethal Injection Rules

The confusion over precisely how Missouri intends to execute Taylor generated on Tuesday another big headache for state officials– a substantial new request for a stay of execution in Taylor’s case. Here is the link to that motion and here is how defense attorneys summarize their argument:

Missouri has identified no lawful means of executing Taylor next week. Any pentobarbital Missouri previously acquired is now expired. Though Missouri has indicated it has midazolam and hydromorphone, its execution protocol does not permit administration of those drugs; even if it did, Taylor would warrant a stay because those drugs have already inflicted unconstitutional pain and suffering in an execution and the states using them have thus temporarily halted executions.

In any event, switching the protocol or the pentobartibal supplier now – a week before the scheduled execution – would violate Taylor’s right to due process of law.

Taylor’s lawyers made those arguments before they learned that Missouri had reportedly acquired a new supply of pentobarbital. State lawyers would say only in their court filing Wednesday that “Missouri has now arranged with a pharmacy, that is not the pharmacy Taylor threatened and sued, to supply pentobarbital for Taylor’s execution.” In their response Thursday, the link to which may be found here, Taylor’s lawyers wrote this:

Utterly nothing is known about this pharmacy. Has it been cited for
violating federal and state laws more or less often than the previous pharmacy? Does it also send its drugs, to be tested for purity and sterility, to a laboratory that approved a batch of tainted steroids that killed over 60 people? For that matter, does the pharmacy test its drugs at all?

If Missouri has its way, it will not tell Taylor anything more about the drug officials seek to use to execute him next week. It will argue that the conduct of its officials should be presumed to be lawful, and proper, and designed to respect the constitutional rights of the condemned. A few weeks ago, we know, the federal courts were willing to accept these arguments and to allow these dubious executions to proceed. Now I’m not so sure. No matter what the trial judge decides on Taylor’s stay request, this dispute is going first to the 8th Circuit and then to the Supreme Court. Will those appellate judges be motivated to remind Missouri who gets the final say on executions in this nation?


Florida death row inmates receive ‘consciousness checks’ at execution – Paul Howell

february 20, 2014 (theguardian)

The state corrections official who stands beside condemned inmates as they take their last breaths in Florida’s death chamber recently pulled back the veil on what has largely been a very secretive execution process.

The testimony was given during a 11 February hearing in a lawsuit involving Paul Howell, a death row inmate scheduled to die by lethal injection 26 February. Howell is appealing his execution; his lawyers say the first of the injected drugs, midazolam, isn’t effective at preventing the pain of the subsequent drugs.

The Florida supreme court specifically asked the circuit court in Leon County to determine the efficacy of the so called “consciousness check” given to inmates by the execution team leader.

The testimony is notable because it shows that the Department of Corrections has changed its procedures since the state started using a new cocktail of lethal injection drugs. A shortage of execution drugs around the country is becoming worse as more pharmacies conclude that supplying the lethal chemicals is not worth the bad publicity or legal and ethical risks.

Timothy Cannon, who is the assistant secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections and the team leader present at every execution, told a Leon County court that an additional inmate “consciousness check” is now given due to news media reports and other testimony stemming from the 15 October execution of William Happ.

Happ was the first inmate to receive the new lethal injection drug trio. An Associated Press reporter who had covered executions using the old drug cocktail wrote that Happ acted differently during the execution than those executed before him. It appeared Happ remained conscious longer and made more body movements after losing consciousness.

Cannon said in his testimony that during Happ’s execution and the ones that came before it, he did two “consciousness checks” based on what he learned at training at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Indiana – a “shake and shout”, where he vigorously shakes the inmate’s shoulders and calls his name loudly, and also strokes the inmate’s eyelashes and eyelid.

After Happ’s execution, Cannon said the department decided to institute a “trapezoid pinch”, where he squeezes the muscle between an inmate’s neck and shoulder.

It was added “to ensure we were taking every precaution we could possibly do to ensure the person was, in fact, unconscious”, Cannon said. “To make sure that this process was humane and dignified”.

Lawyers for Howell say that they are concerned that the midazolam does not produce a deep enough level of unconsciousness to prevent the inmate from feeling the pain of the second and third injection and causes a death that makes the inmate feel as though he is being buried alive.

“Beyond just the fact that constitution requires a humane death, if we decided that we wanted perpetrators of crime to die in the same way that their victims did then we would rape rapists. And we don’t rape rapists,” said Sonya Rudenstine, a Gainesville attorney who represents Howell.

“We should not be engaging of the behavior that we have said to abhor. If we are going to kill people, we have to do it humanely. It’s often said the inmate doesn’t suffer nearly as much as the victim, and I believe that’s what keeps us civilized and humane.”

Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary said on Wednesday that the department “remains committed to doing everything it can to ensure a humane and dignified lethal injection process”.

Cannon explained in his testimony that each execution team member “has to serve in the role of the condemned during training at some point”.

“We’ve changed several aspects of just the comfort level for the inmate while lying on the gurney,” he said. “Maybe we put sponges under the hand or padding under the hands to make it more comfortable, changed the pillow, the angle of things, just to try to make it a little more comfortable, more humane and more dignified as we move along.”

He said an inmate is first injected with two syringes of midazolam and a syringe of “flush”, a saline solution to get the drug into the body. Midazolam is a sedative.

Once the three syringes have been administered from an anonymous team of pharmacists and doctors in a back room, Cannon does the consciousness checks.

Meanwhile, the team in the back room watches the inmate’s face on a screen, which is captured by a video camera in the death chamber. The inmate is also hooked up to a heart monitor, Cannon said.

There are two executioners in the back room – the ones who deploy the drugs – along with an assistant team leader, three medical professionals, an independent monitor from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and two corrections employees who maintain an open line to the governor’s office.

If the team determines that the inmate is unconscious, the other two lethal drugs are administered.

OHIO- Death-row inmate denied clemency, Brett Hartman

NOVEMBER 9, 2012

Gov. John Kasich has denied clemency to the death row inmate facing execution next week for the brutal murder of an Akron woman 15 years ago.

Barring last-minute court intervention, Brett Hartman will be put to death Tuesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Kasich’s decision was in line with the unanimous recommendation of the state parole board, which last month, for the third time in recent years, said Hartman deserved the death penalty for the crime.

Hartman was convicted of murdering 46-year-old Winda Snipes in September 1997, stabbing her more than 130 times, slitting her throat and cutting off her hands. The latter never were found.

Evidence used in the conviction included DNA taken from Snipes’ body, fingerprints at the scene and a bloody T-shirt and woman’s watch found at Hartman’s apartment.

Additionally, a cellmate and former co-worker testified that Hartman had made incriminating comments.

But Hartman, who admitted having sexual relations with the victim hours before her death, has maintained his innocence, saying fingerprints and hair found at the crime scene and phone records prove he did not commit murder.

“My heart goes out to [Snipes’ family],” Hartman told the Statehouse Bureau of Dix Newspapers and The Vindicator during a death row interview last month. “I know losing anyone, especially family, is a very traumatizing experience. I recently lost my mom and my sister. And no one in the world deserves to lose a relative or anyone the way that Winda was taken, and my heart goes out to them. But I didn’t do it.”

But the parole board and Kasich were not swayed by his claims of innocence.

“The overwhelming evidence presented during trial clearly established that Hartman is guilty of this crime,” the parole board wrote. “Hartman shows no remorse and continues to claim his innocence despite the evidence indicating his guilt.”

Doctor says veins of obese Ohio inmate condemned to die inaccessible, injection unlikely- Ronald Post

November 8, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio  — A condemned killer fighting his execution because of his extreme weight does not have accessible veins in his arms or hands and could not receive a lethal injection in his legs because he is so obese, a doctor said in a court filing.

Death row inmate Ronald Post wants a federal judge to stop his January execution on the grounds his weight could cause him to suffer severe pain during the procedure. The state opposes the request.

Ohio attorneys had criticized an earlier filing by Post based on an analysis by a doctor who didn’t examine him.Thursday’s filing sought to counter that opposition by presenting the affidavit of a doctor who extensively examined Post and interviewed him about his medical history.

It is “highly unlikely” that an IV could be placed in Post’s legs and “extremely unlikely” that veins could be found in his hands, Ohio State medical center anesthesiologist Sergio Bergese said in affidavit dated Oct. 31 and filed Thursday.

Post also has scars on his left and right forearms from a suicide attempt that make his veins inaccessible for an IV, Bergese said. Post weighs more than 400 pounds, the doctor said. (400 pounds=181 kg )

He said Post reported he has provided some blood samples in the past only after great difficulty. Bergese said providing blood samples is no guarantee that an IV could be inserted.

Post, 53, is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for the 1983 shooting death of Helen Vantz in Elyria.

Vantz’s son, Bill Vantz, has called Post’s arguments “laughable.”

Post argues his weight, vein access, scar tissue, depression and other medical problems raise the likelihood his executioners would encounter severe problems.

Post’s attorneys also want more time to pursue arguments that claims of a full confession by the inmate to several people have been falsely exaggerated.

Post has tried losing weight, but knee and back problems have made it difficult to exercise, according to his court filing.

Post’s request for gastric bypass surgery has been denied, he has been encouraged not to walk because he’s at risk for falling, and severe depression has contributed to his inability to limit how much he eats, his filing said.


SOUTH DAKOTA – Death penalty called incentive for Robert

 October 20,2012

The lawyer for a man executed this week says the death penalty created an incentive for his client to murder corrections officer Ronald “R.J.” Johnson.

Mark Kadi, who represented 50-year-old Eric Robert in the capital case, wrote a letter to the Argus Leader saying his client devised an escape plan that involved murder to ensure a death sentence in the event his escape failed.

“The availability of the death penalty encouraged rather than discouraged Robert to commit this crime,” Kadi wrote. “I know this because Eric told me so.”

After the murder in April 2011, Robert quickly pleaded guilty and insisted the judge issue a death penalty, then strongly objected to a mandatory Supreme Court review, which delayed his execution. He wrote a letter to Attorney General Marty Jackley earlier this month encouraging revisions to state law to guarantee a speedy death for a death row inmate who was not fighting it.

Jackley, who prosecuted the case, rejects the notion that Johnson’s murder was anything but a failed, “poorly executed” escape attempt.

He also said the death penalty will protect corrections officers from an inmate who had promised to kill again.

Robert was executed by lethal injection Monday.

Kadi: Failed overdose before escape try

Kadi, who watched the execution, said in his letter that Robert felt “hopeless” behind bars, and that the inmate had attempted suicide by drug overdose before the escape attempt with fellow inmate Rodney Berget.

Robert was serving an 80-year sentence for kidnapping and failed to secure a sentence reduction.

Robert viewed a life sentence as being identical to a death sentence with the exception that the latter had a set date. Robert believed he needed to get out, one way or the other,” Kadi wrote.

Kadi’s letter says Robert had time to read the state’s death penalty statute and understood that killing a law enforcement officer in an act of escape would satisfy several of the aggravating factors that would justify an escape attempt.

Johnson was not afforded the additional protection the Legislature hoped to provide when adding those provisions to its death penalty statutes, Kadi wrote.

 Read the letter From Eric Robert to Attorney General Marty Jackley

Read the letter From Eric Robert’s Attorney, Mark Kadi

These factors, intended to be a shield, now served to target those the law protects in accordance with their important service to the public,” Kadi said. “The Legislature never intended these factors to be used in such a manner.”

Escape was only goal, Jackley says

Jackley rejects the notion that Robert and Berget’s crime was a suicidal act. Both men had escape histories, he said, and he contends escape alone was the goal.

“All the evidence in the case points to this being a poorly planned, poorly executed escape attempt,” Jackley said.

The attorney general also took issue with the notion that the death penalty does not provide a deterrent, particularly in Robert’s case. Robert said he would kill again if he weren’t executed.

“I can’t say if the death penalty will deter others from committing crimes in the future, but it deterred Eric Robert from committing any other crimes,” Jackley said.

Removing danger to prison staff

Future dangerousness framed key portions of Jackley’s argument for a death sentence in both Robert and Berget’s pre-sentence hearings. Berget also was sentenced to death for the crime.

Associate Warden Troy Ponto testified at Berget’s hearing that inmates segregated from the rest of the population can pose dangers during their daily interactions with officers.

Maximum security inmates are guarded by three officers any time their door is open.

“When we bring out inmates out of their cell, whether it be for a walk-through for medical, inmates have attempted to head-butt staff, punching them, kicking them,” Ponto said.

“We have good policies in place, but there is a risk when we take some of these guys out.”

Certain situations present further potential for violence. An inmate on a hunger strike would require additional interaction with medical staff, for example.

Robert and Berget both went on a hunger strike at the Minnehaha County Jail in the months after the murder of Johnson.

Ponto also said inmates are evaluated every 90 days to determine whether they should stay in segregation.

Johnson’s murder prompted a tightening of security measures at the prison. Lynette Johnson, Ron Johnson’s widow, said after Robert’s execution Monday night that “more needs to be done” to protect the officers at the penitentiary.

Speedy executions such as Robert’s rare

Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the idea of an inmate committing a crime to earn a death sentence is highly unusual but not unheard of.

“Some believe that (serial killer) Ted Bundy deliberately went to Florida and committed murders because that was the state that was most likely to execute him,” Dieter said. “He was offered a plea bargain sparing his life, but he turned it down.”

Gary Gilmore, the first person executed following the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, volunteered for execution and was hanged three months from his sentence.

Robert’s explicit statement about his wish to die makes the case stand out, Dieter said.

The speed of Robert’s execution stands out as well. Of the 32 executions in the U.S. this year, Robert’s is the only one that happened within a year of the sentence. The next-shortest delay was six years.

The average wait time so far is 17 years.

Robert’s body was claimed by his family, Department of Corrections spokesman Michael Winder said.



Inmate who threatened Texas senator using smuggled phone renews death wish in letter to AP – RICHARD TABLER

October 13, 2012

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.”