Judge denies appeal for CO killer, sets execution date

Judge said DNA evidence would not have changed a jury's 2002 decision to convict him of killing a CO


Nadia Tamez-Robledo
Corpus Christi Caller-Times

BEEVIILLE — Robert Lynn Pruett almost died once. On Wednesday, Pruett and his lawyers found out he wouldn’t escape death twice after a judge said DNA evidence would not have changed a jury’s 2002 decision to convict him of killing a prison guard.

District Judge Bert Richardson, the San Antonio judge who presided over the hearing in the 156th District Court, approved May 21 as Pruett’s execution date. Attorneys for Pruett plan to file an appeal in his case.

Pruett, 34, was found guilty of killing Officer Daniel Nagle in 1999, when Pruett was an inmate at the McConnell Unit in Beeville on another murder charge. Prosecutors argued that Pruett was angry at Nagle for writing a disciplinary report because the inmate attempted to take a sack lunch to the recreation yard.

Richardson granted Pruett a stay of execution in November to allow inconclusive DNA evidence examined at the University of North Texas to be analyzed by a lab in Pennsylvania.

At issue was to whom a partial palm print on the torn-up disciplinary report found near Nagle’s body belonged.

Special prosecutor Mark Edwards said the print did not turn up any results when it was run through the Department of Public Safety’s database, and there is no palm print record from Nagle to which it can be compared.

Jeff Newberry is one of two attorneys with the Texas Innocence Network at the University of Houston Law Center representing Pruett. Newberry argued while the Pennsylvania lab also said the DNA evidence could not conclusively be linked to either Nagle or Pruett, a characteristic of the DNA was shared by one-third of the prison population.

Newberry also said the jury was not informed that some inmates who testified against Pruett were approved for transfers to their home states. Those two pieces of information, he said, could have persuaded the jury that state prosecutors didn’t make their case against Pruett beyond a reasonable doubt and gave his client the right to a new trial.

Edwards said, given the Pennsylvania report acknowledged it used the same methods as the University of North Texas and also found the results inconclusive, the convicting jury’s decision would not have been affected.

Richardson, who did not preside over the criminal trial, said the same during his ruling. He also cited court records, including the Supreme Court rejection of the case for review, witness testimony against Pruett and reported threats made by Pruett to people around him since conviction, in his decision.

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