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Judge will review new DNA evidence in death row case
by Gary Kent
Jul 24, 2013 | 1952 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE – Robert Lynn Pruett learned that he may live to see 2014.

The 33-year-old Death Row inmate was scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 21. He was convicted in 2002 in a Corpus Christi courtroom for stabbing 37-year-old McConnell Unit correctional officer Daniel Nagle to death.

Pruett was not in court the morning of June 3, when Senior District Judge Ronald Yeager convened a hearing to consider scheduling another execution date.

Prosecutor Alfred Hernandez of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said the defendant was only required to be present in the courtroom for the initial scheduling of the execution date. Hernandez said the defendant had waived his right to be present on Monday.

Yeager set the first execution date four months ago in the same Beeville courtroom. At that time, Pruett was in the room surrounded by armed correctional officers and local lawmen.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Newberry, legal clinic supervisor for the University of Houston Law Center, presented a seven-page copy of a disciplinary report that Nagle was going to give to Pruett the day he was murdered.

He told Yeager that a bloody palm print had been discovered on one page of the report. He said defense attorneys wanted to test the evidence to see who else might have handled the report on the day Nagle was killed.

Newberry said the original document is now in the possession of the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab for DNA and fingerprint testing.

Nagle’s body was discovered in a restroom at a multi-purpose room in the McConnell Unit on Dec. 17, 1999.

He had been stabbed multiple times with a prison-made weapon.

DNA evidence and testimony from other McConnell Unit inmates helped convict Pruett in 2002. Testimony during that trial revealed that Pruett, 22 at the time, was serving a life sentence for his participation in a Houston trailer park murder. His older brother and his father were also serving life for their part in the same killing.

Yeager asked when it would be possible to reschedule an execution date, and state investigator Jay Brionez said the earliest possible date would be for Oct. 15.

Brionez explained that scheduling executions is a complicated process that must go through the Texas Attorney General’s Office. He said if the execution was not scheduled for Oct. 15, the next opportunity would most likely be sometime in 2014.

Newberry said he thought it would be premature to set an execution date this week because it would take 30 to 45 days to obtain initial reports from the DPS Crime Lab.

The evidence would then need to be tested by a second laboratory to confirm the initial findings.

Newberry told the judge that a court order would be necessary for the labs to proceed with the testing.

Hernandez told the judge that the state would like to see a date scheduled at Monday’s hearing. But Yeager declined to set a date.

“The DPS lab is awfully slow,” Yeager said. At that point, he told the attorneys that he would schedule a hearing for Oct. 10 to view the DNA test results and determine if the evidence should be admitted. He also said he would hear motions from the attorneys on that date and would probably schedule a new execution date at that hearing.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.
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