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Texas resumes executions after five-month COVID-19 break

Texas resumes executions after five-month COVID-19 break

FILE PHOTO: The federal court building in Austin, Texas, US. (REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz/File Photo)

HOUSTON: The US state of Texas on Wednesday (Jul 8) executed an inmate convicted of murdering an elderly man during a 1993 robbery - ending a five-month halt to executions due to the coronavirus crisis.

Billy Joe Wardlow, 45, was pronounced dead at 6:52pm local time (2352GMT) after being given a lethal injection at the penitentiary in Huntsville, prison officials said.

His attorneys had filed an 11th-hour appeal with the US Supreme Court, but it was denied.

With the help of his girlfriend at the time, Wardlow held up an elderly man, Carl Cole, in a bid to steal the man's truck.

The 82-year-old Cole fought back, and Wardlow, then 18, shot him in the head.

The fugitive couple tried to flee Texas for Montana, but were caught in South Dakota after a 15-hour drive from the small Texas town where the crime occurred.

In the Lone Star State, jurors on capital cases are required to establish if the accused would pose a future danger before handing down a death sentence.

Wardlow's attorney, Richard Burr, had argued that his client was too young for that determination to be made with any "scientific certainty," and had filed for a stay of execution.

Burr said research had shown that "because of continuing brain development until sometime in our early 20s, the neurological basis for a person's character, and hence his or her character, is not fully formed prior to the age of 21."

A 2005 decision by the US high court abolished capital punishment for those who committed murder at the age of 17 or younger.

Wardlow's attorneys had argued that there is no discernible neurological difference between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old, but to no avail.

In a written confession in February 1994, Wardlow said: "Being younger and stronger, I pushed him off and shot him right between the eyes. Just because he pissed me off."

At trial, he recanted that confession and said he intended to use the pistol stolen from his own mother to intimidate Cole, not kill him.

Wardlow's execution was initially set for Apr 29, but was pushed back to Wednesday because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As with every execution, a significant number of people are involved: prison guards, witnesses, the inmate's loved ones and the victim's relatives.

Wardlow is the seventh death row inmate executed in the United States since the beginning of the year, and the third in Texas.

The last execution in the US took place on May 19 in Missouri, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Texas has not carried out an execution since early February.

Source: AFP/kv


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