Travis Runnels last words: Texas death row inmate’s execution death marks 23rd US execution and Texas’ 9th as mandate for capital punishment remains unabated as yet another condemned man exhausts all appeals.
A Texas inmate executed by lethal injection Wednesday evening for killing a supervisor at a state prison shoe factory in Amarillo nearly 17 years ago startled witnesses when he muttered the words, ‘woof, woof’ just moments after being given his lethal dose.
Travis Runnels, 46, had come to meet his maker after failing to overturn an execution verdict after being convicted in the slashing murder of his prison supervisor, Stanley Wiley, aged 38 on Jan. 29, 2003.
Runnels was executed at the state penitentiary in Huntsville CBS News reports.
Prosecutors say Runnels killed Wiley at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Clements Unit in Amarillo because he didn’t like working as a janitor at the shoe factory. Runnels had wanted to transfer to a job at the prison barbershop and was angry at Wiley – whom he blamed for blocking the transfer.
Runnels had been serving a 70-year sentence for an aggravated robbery conviction from Dallas when he killed Wiley with a knife used to trim shoes. The factory makes shoes for inmates in the state prison system.
Travis Runnels was executed tonight in Texas. Last yr he wrote this:
Wanna cry me a river
Tears for my peers
Executed over the years
Despite these fears
Living life in this period
Grinded in the gears
Of unfair justice
Strapped down in line
Hoping it’s not my time
To cry my river pic.twitter.com/YxaDdOqc5X
— lil olive (@AywaRhiannon) December 12, 2019
Travis Runnels last words banal & precise: ‘Woof, woof.’
As Runnels was being belted to the death chamber gurney, the death row man was asked by the warden if he had a final statement – to which Runnels replied, ’No!’
As the lethal dose of powerful sedative pentobarbital began, he smiled and mouthed words and a kiss toward three female friends and two of his attorneys who watched through a window a few feet from him. Then he blurted out ‘Woof, woof!’ just before taking four quick breaths and snoring four times before all movement stopped.
Some had likened the bark like sounds as that of a man in realization that he was a dog, an animal that had come to be watched before being ‘put to sleep.’ A last thumbing to the system that insisted on condemning him.
Runnels was pronounced dead at 7:26 p.m. CST, 22 minutes after the drug began flowing into his arms, making him the 22nd inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the ninth in Texas. Seven more are scheduled for execution through May.
Runnels never looked at the sister and brother-in-law of his victim, who watched through a window in an adjacent witness room.
Outside the Huntsville Unit prison, several hundred Texas corrections officers stood in formation, and Wiley’s sister, Margaret Robertson, hugged or shook the hands of many of them as she and her husband left the prison.
The SCOTUS has ruled that a death sentence based on materially inaccurate evidence is unconstitutional, and a court must overturn a death sentence… Give Travis Runnels a new sentencing of 100 years straight; ensuring he serves the rest of his life for the horrendous crime. https://t.co/lticPBCYgs
— Keith Cates (@catesk1) December 11, 2019
Last minute appeals to have execution stayed:
The execution was delayed about an hour until the U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by Runnels’ attorneys, who said a prosecution witness at his 2005 trial provided false testimony and that no defense was presented because his lawyers advised him to plead guilty and called no witnesses.
Janet Gilger-VanderZanden, one of his more recent attorneys, said Runnels changed during his 14 years on death row.
‘There is true and authentic remorse for the death of Mr. Wiley. There are no excuses, rather there is a commitment to finding some kind of light in what was once a world of only darkness,’ Gilger-VanderZanden said.
Lower courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles had also turned down Runnels’ attorneys’ requests to stop his execution.
Four inmates who were convicted in the deaths of state correctional officers or other prison employees have been put to death since 1974, while three others remain on death row, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
On Wednesday, Travis Runnels is set to be executed by the state of Texas. He got here partly due to testimony from a former star witness for prosecutors named A.P. Merillat—testimony a former prison official says was “bullshit.” https://t.co/PDXWzgaDka
— Christopher Hooks (@cd_hooks) December 9, 2019
Go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty always on hand:
At his trial, Runnels’ lawyers didn’t present any witnesses or evidence, including information about Runnels’ troubled childhood and family history of drug and alcohol abuse, Gilger-VanderZanden said.
In their petition to the Supreme Court, Runnels’ attorneys argued that his death sentence was mainly due to the testimony of ‘go-to expert for prosecutors seeking the death penalty,’ A.P. Merillat, who told jurors that inmates like Runnels could not be held in a secure environment if sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the death sentences of two inmates, in 2010 and 2012, after ruling that Merillat gave jurors incorrect information.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office pointed to assaults by Runnels on other guards after Wiley’s death, including throwing feces and a light bulb at them, as evidence that he was a future danger and merited a death sentence.
In his clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Runnels included letters from more than 25 individuals from around the world who said Runnels had worked to make amends for what he did.
‘He has become a light that shines bright even in the darkest of spaces. The tragedy that he is responsible for will only be compounded if his valuable light were to be extinguished,’ Kristin Procanick, from Syracuse, New York, wrote in one of the letters.
Globally, of the 195 United Nations states, 55 countries retain capital punishment, 104 countries have completely abolished it de jure for all crimes, eight have abolished it for ordinary crimes (while maintaining it for special circumstances such as war crimes) and 28 are abolitionist in practice.
Of note, Texas has the highest rate of executions of all the states in the US, with more than half of all the annual executions in 2018, when 13 death row inmates were put to death.