District Judge Robert “Bert” Richardson granted a request from Pruett’s defense team to have a DNA sample found at the scene of the murder of McConnell Unit correctional officer Daniel Nagle sent to Pennsylvania for further testing.
The request was made by David Dow, an attorney with the Texas Innocence Network of the University of Houston Law Center.
“Setting an execution date will be put off for now,” Richardson told Dow and his fellow defense attorney, Jeff Newberry.
Attorneys from UofH have been representing Pruett since before he was brought to Beeville nine months ago to face Senior District Judge Ronald Yeager.
At that hearing, Yeager set Pruett’s execution date for May 21 of this year.
Six months ago, Yeager signed an order granting Pruett a 60-day reprieve of his execution after defense attorneys told the judge that they wanted to conduct DNA testing on a bloody palm print found on a disciplinary report that was discovered near Nagle’s body.
On Monday, Dow said the evidence had been sent to experts at the University of North Texas’ Health Science Center in Fort Worth, and the tests were “inconclusive.”
Dow asked that the sample be sent to a facility at State College, Pa., for additional testing.
Richardson granted the request and said he would schedule another hearing 60-90 days from this week.
The judge anticipated that the hearing could be held in early February. He said he would contact attorneys in the case sometime in January to see if the testing of the evidence had been completed.
Richardson granted a request from Texas Department of Criminal Justice prosecutor Mark Edwards to contact the testing center before the tests are conducted to determine the method that will be used to test the sample.
The new tests on the evidence are expected to cost between $1,500, and $2,000. Bee County will pay for the testing.
Edwards told the judge that TDCJ investigator Jay Brionez would be in charge of picking up the sample in Fort Worth and getting it sent to Pennsylvania.
Brionez was in the courtroom on Monday.
Pruett was serving a life sentence at the McConnell Unit after being convicted of taking part in a murder with his father and brother.
He was 15 when he was certified to stand trial as an adult. He was later found guilty and sentenced to 99 years to life in prison.
When Pruett started serving his sentence, he was the youngest offender in the TDCJ system.
Pruett was only 20 years old when he killed Nagle after the officer told him he was going to write a disciplinary report on him. Prosecutors at his 2002 trial in Corpus Christi told jurors that Pruett lured Nable to a restroom in a multi-purpose facility at McConnell and stabbed him numerous times.
At his trial, some of his fellow inmates, including one man who said he gave Pruett the sharpened steel rod used in the murder, testified against him.
Pruett arrived at Texas’ Death Row on April 30, 2002. He was 22 years old. He turned 34 on Sept. 18.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.