Texas execution of Stephen Barbee extended while officials search for a vein – The Gilmer Mirror

“Texas Execution of Stephen Barbee Extended While Officials Groped for a Vein” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that educates – and works with Texans on public policy, politics, government and statewide issues .

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Texas’ Wednesday night execution of Stephen Barbee was extended while prison officials searched for a vein in the disabled man’s body, according to a prison spokesman.

Barbee, who was convicted of the 2005 murders of his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her child, suffered from severe joint deterioration that prevented him from straightening his arms or lying flat, according to court documents. His lawyer had recently tried to stop his execution, fearing the process would result in “torture” with Barbee disabled.

However, the courts dismissed the appeals, noting that prison officials had promised to make special adjustments to the death chamber’s stretcher to accommodate Barbee.

Still, the execution took much longer than usual in Texas. Reporters entered the prison around 6:00 p.m. and signaled that the execution was about to begin. But no one came out for an hour and 40 minutes, leading anti-death penalty protesters outside to worry something had gone wrong. It is unusual for executions to last longer than an hour.

“Because of his inability to straighten his arms, it took longer to make sure he had working IV lines,” prison spokeswoman Amanda Hernandez said in an email Wednesday night.

Barbee was pronounced dead at 7:35 p.m., nearly an hour and a half after he was strapped to the death chamber gurney, according to the prison’s execution record.

Within minutes of being strapped to the stretcher, an IV was put into his right hand at 6:14 p.m., but it took another 35 minutes for an additional line to start flowing down the left side of his neck. According to a prison witness list, his friends watched through a pane of glass next to the chamber the entire time. So did the murder victims’ friends – Lisa Underwood and her 7-year-old son Jayden – as well as Underwood’s mother.

About 15 minutes after the IV was inserted down his throat, he made his final statement, thanking God, his minister and loved ones.

“I just want everyone to have peace in their hearts, make eternity with Jesus, give him glory in everything you do. I’m ready,” he said just before a lethal dose of pentobarbital was injected at 7:09 p.m., 26 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

Hours before the prisoner’s scheduled death, Barbee’s execution was halted when the courts again argued over the state’s handling of the prisoner’s religious rights in the death chamber.

Federal courts this month went back and forth over Texas’ execution policy and the findings of several US Supreme Court rulings that largely required the state to allow prisoners’ religious advisers to audibly pray and touch them in their final moments. On Tuesday, a district judge essentially halted Barbee’s pending execution by declaring that the Texas prison system could only kill the death row prisoner after a new execution policy was created and passed that clearly spelled out his final religious rights. But after the federal appeals court and US Supreme Court both ruled in favor of the state early Wednesday afternoon, Barbee’s execution was put back on track.

Barbee, 55, was convicted of the 2005 Tarrant County murders. During police questioning, Barbee confessed to the murders and said he feared Underwood would tell his ex-wife that he was likely the father of their unborn child and that he would have to pay child support. He soon recanted the confession, which his lawyer claimed was “the result of fear and coercion,” and he has since maintained his innocence.

Instead, Barbee said his colleague Ron Dodd, also a suspect in the murders, committed the murders alone and helped Dodd hide the bodies. After Barbee was sentenced to death, Dodd pleaded guilty to tampering with physical evidence and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He admitted to helping Barbee dispose of the victims’ bodies.

Barbee’s first execution date, set for 2019, was stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to further investigate whether it was a violation of Barbee’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel when his trial attorney told the jury he was against owe his will. In a case in Louisiana, the US Supreme Court recently ruled that defendants have the right to insist that their attorneys not admit guilt, even if the attorneys believe that such an admission is the best way to avoid the death penalty .

Finally, early last year, the Texas court ruled that Barbee was not eligible for a new trial because he failed to make it clear to his attorneys that he wanted to maintain his innocence. The judges said that while Barbee repeatedly told his lawyers that he was innocent and would not plead guilty, and while he was shocked by the admission of guilt at his trial, he did not tell them that his defense strategy included a claim of innocence, he said no wrong was done under precedent in court.

Following the verdict, Tarrant County officials requested a new execution date, which was set for October 2021. At the time, it was canceled by US District Judge Kenneth Hoyt of Houston while the US Supreme Court was considering the case of another Texas man in a series of decisions about the Texas prison system’s handling of the religious rights of prisoners in the execution chamber. Barbee had requested that his spiritual advisor pray for him and lay hands on him as he died, a practice recently banned by prison officials.

In March of this year, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas’ execution policy likely violates a prisoner’s religious rights, and prison officials said they would make adjustments to execute people consistent with the court’s intent.

Before Wednesday’s execution, his attorneys were still arguing that there was an unacceptable lack of clarity in the Texas Department of Justice’s execution policy regarding religious practices. Although prison officials acknowledged they were following orders from the country’s Supreme Court, the practice has not been included in the state’s execution policy.

Hoyt agreed, saying earlier this month that Texas could only go ahead with Barbee’s execution if it updated its execution policy in a way that was clear and consistent with US Supreme Court rulings.

“TDCJ now operates under an unwritten policy whereby prison officials may unilaterally decide whether to grant an inmate’s requested placement … placement may be withdrawn at the last moment at the will or whim of any prison official,” Hoyt wrote in his decision.

Prison officials vowed in court affidavits that Barbee would be allowed his counselor to touch him and pray as he died. Federal appellate judges on Friday said that Hoyt’s verdict was too broad and went beyond Barbee’s needs, and sent it back to Hoyt for revision. On Tuesday, Hoyt issued a new ruling that mirrored his previous one but applied it only to Barbee.

“Texas [TDCJ] cannot proceed with the execution of Stephen Barbee until it has issued a clear policy, approved by its governing political body, that (1) protects Stephen Barbee’s religious rights in the execution chamber… and (2) any exceptions to these policy, and describes exactly what those exceptions are or could be,” Hoyt said in his restraining order.

On Wednesday afternoon, the US Fifth Circuit Circuit threw out the injunction, saying Hoyt could not order the state to develop a new execution policy. Instead, two judges said an appropriate order would have been to order the prison to follow his word and allow Barbee to have his spiritual advisor present, who audibly prayed and laid hands on him as he died.

Barbee’s attorneys had also sought to stop his current execution, saying his disabilities would result in extreme pain if he were strapped to a gurney, as executions typically do in Texas.

For 15 years, Barbee had progressively lost range of motion in numerous joints, resulting in the inability to straighten his arms. His disability had long been documented in his prison medical records, which, according to court documents, resulted in him using a wheelchair and requiring an aid to clean himself after using the toilet. The prison handcuffed him because he could not put his hands behind his back.

“If anyone wants my arms to be straightened in any way, I guess I’ll have to have my arms broken because even if you force them to, they won’t straighten,” Barbee said in an affidavit last year. “It’s been like this for years and it’s only getting worse.”

Last week, the jail warden said in an affidavit that Barbee was not required to stretch his arms on the stretcher. Hoyt dismissed the case Tuesday afternoon, saying the prison told Barbee months ago he would be housed.

“The leather straps that attach his arms to the armrests are adjustable … which allows his arms to remain flexed,” Huntsville Unit Warden Kelly Strong said in her affidavit.

“While the crook of the elbow is the preferred site for IV insertion during an execution, IV lines were inserted at other sites when a suitable vein could not be used,” she said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/11/16/texas-execution-stephen-barbee-tarrant-county/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom that educates and engages Texans in state politics and politics. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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