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Man Who Slashed Prison Official's Throat to be 22nd Person Executed in US This Year

A flag of the United States (Reuters)

A flag of the United States (Reuters)

Executions have dropped in the United States due to a rise in opposition to the death penalty and legal questions over the methods of execution.

  • AFP
  • Last Updated: December 12, 2019, 8:17 AM IST
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A Texas man who killed a prison officer in 2003 is to be executed on Wednesday, bringing to 22 the number of people put to death in the US this year.

On Wednesday evening, the US Supreme Court rejected a stay of execution request for Travis Runnels, 46, meaning he would be given a lethal injection at the Huntsville prison north of Houston. Runnels received a 70-year jail sentence in 1997 for armed robbery.

In 2003, working in a prison shoe factory and unhappy that he wasn't transferred to the barber shop, he slashed the throat of a prison official, supervisor Stanley Wiley, prosecutors said. Two years later he pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to death.

His lawyers later sought to have the penalty reversed. They said mitigating factors about his difficult childhood were not introduced in the trial, and also that a state witness in the case, AP Merillat, gave false testimony.

The lawyers accused Merillat of falsely telling a jury that if Wiley were not put to death, and instead given a life sentence, he would be free to roam through the prison and pose a danger to others.

Since 2010 the death sentences in two capital cases that also made use of Merillat's testimony have been reversed. "Mr Runnels was sentenced to death based on the false 'expert' testimony," one of his lawyers said in their petition to the Supreme Court.

But Texas authorities argued that the jury would have sentenced Runnels to death without Merillat's testimony, because of his alleged record of violent attacks inside the prison.

"The evidence of Runnels' future dangerousness was overwhelming," Texas lawyers told the country's highest court, which issued a three-line decision rejecting Runnels' stay of execution request.

Executions have dropped in the United States due to a rise in opposition to the death penalty and legal questions over the methods of execution. In 2016, the most recent low, 20 people were put to death, compared to 86 in 1999.

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