Senior District Judge Ronald Yeager sat on the bench, presiding over the 156th District Court. Yeager was only minutes away from telling Pruett he was scheduling his execution by lethal injection for May 21.
Pruett turned 33 in September and has been on death row since he was convicted in a Corpus Christi courtroom on April 30, 2002, of murdering 37-year-old Daniel Nagle.
Nagle had been discovered, lying in his own blood, near a multipurpose room in the William G. McConnell maximum security unit in Bee County on Dec. 17, 1999. He had been stabbed repeatedly with an inmate-made “shank,” a steel bar sharpened on one end and wrapped with cloth on the other end.
Nagle was the first, and only, correctional officer to be murdered inside one of the three TDCJ prisons in Bee County.
It did not take investigators long to single out Pruett. The 20-year-old inmate was serving a life sentence for a murder in which he had been involved with his father and older brother at a trailer park in Houston. And Nagle had told Pruett he was going to write him up for violating one of the prison’s rules.
“It sounds like they have overwhelming evidence against me,” the prisoner told Yeager Monday. He knew that testimony from fellow McConnell Unit inmates and DNA evidence found on his clothing had sealed his fate.
Pruett was surrounded by five correctional officers, two Bee County deputies and two court bailiffs as he sat with his defense attorney, Richard Rogers III of Corpus Christi. At the other table, state prosecutor Mark Edwards sat as Yeager went over the documents before him on the bench.
In the audience sat TDCJ’s Region IV Director Eileen Kennedy and several other prison officials.
Bailiff Bill Lazenby had blocked off access to the stairway leading to the second floor where the hearing was held. There were no spectators in the courtroom from the general public.
Pruett spoke briefly to Yeager, saying that researchers from the University of Houston had reported that they had uncovered some evidence that could exonerate him. But he did not say what that evidence was.
The defendant said it appeared that prosecutors “basically cheated to get an advantage” in his April 2002 trial in Corpus Christi.
Pruett asked the judge to give him “a month or so, just a little more time.”
Rogers requested that the execution date be scheduled for sometime after August. He mentioned the search for evidence but declined to comment on it because he was not involved in that effort.
Yeager said he had been told that the state was asking for a May 21 execution date. The judge told Pruett and Rogers that he was going to overrule their request for a later execution date and scheduled the event for the requested date.
Yeager told Pruett and Rogers that would give them time to bring any new evidence to the court. He reminded them that all avenues of appeal had been exhausted at both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and United States Supreme Court.
Yeager then ordered that Pruett be taken to the TDCJ’s Death Chamber on May 21 and that he be given an intravenous injection “sufficient to cause death until Robert Lynn Pruett is dead.”
Pruett appears to be a poster boy for the state’s death penalty. He was just weeks shy of his 16th birthday when, on Aug. 9, 1995, he and his brother allegedly held down a resident of the trailer park where they lived in Houston while their father stabbed the man to death.
All three of them were sentenced to life in prison. Robert Pruett began serving his life sentence in October 1995, only weeks after the murder. He had just turned 16.
At the time, TDCJ officials were saying he was considered the youngest inmate in Texas’ adult prison system.
According to an executive summary of Nagle’s murder, written by the TDCJ’s Institutional Division, Pruett had tried to take a sack lunch to the recreation yard on the day Nagle was killed. The meal was supposed to have been eaten in his cell.
Nagle told Pruett that he was going to write a disciplinary report on the incident. Then the inmate was allowed into the recreation yard.
The report indicated that Pruett argued with Nagle over the report and the inmate ended up grabbing the report the officer had written. Pruett then ran toward a restroom adjacent to the multipurpose room where Nagle’s body was found.
When Nagle followed Pruett into the area, Pruett apparently attacked the officer with the 6- to 8-inch weapon, stabbing him numerous times.
Nagle’s body was discovered at 3:30 p.m., possibly 15 minutes after the attack. He was pronounced dead at 3:55 p.m.
Medical examiners found multiple stab wounds to the victim’s head, neck, arms and upper body. It was later determined that the officer died of a heart attack as he was being stabbed.
A number of changes in TDCJ officers’ prison routines were approved following the murder.
If he is executed, Pruett will be the second inmate to die for attacking someone at the McConnell Unit while serving a life sentence for murder.
McConnell Unit inmate Rogelio Cannady was executed on May 19, 2010, for killing his cell mate during an attack on Oct. 10, 1993.
Cannady was serving two life sentences and a 20-year sentence for robbery for his part in the murder of two teenagers, a 16-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl who had run away from a youth home.
Cannady was 37 when he was executed.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.