Ironically, he is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 21, 2014, exactly one year after his original execution date.
Visiting District Judge Bert Richardson set the date at the end of a hearing that began at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Defense attorneys Jeff Newberry and David Dow of the University of Houston Law Center were there to argue their case against setting an execution date.
Pruett, who had not attended recent hearings, sat inches away from Dow at the defense table.
Two correctional officers were seated near him.
Pruett chatted periodically with the two attorneys during the hearing.
Newberry pointed out that DNA testing of a bloody palm print on a disciplinary report found where the body of Pruett’s victim, TDCJ officer Daniel Nagle, was discovered, had been “inconclusive.”
It was thought that the blood on the report might have been Pruett’s because he claimed that he had cut his hand earlier in the prison gymnasium.
The inconclusive DNA tests, Newberry said, meant that there was no physical evidence placing Pruett at the multipurpose room inside the TDCJ’s William G. McConnell Unit where Nagle’s body was found on Dec. 17, 1999.
Newberry argued that the case against Pruett had not been proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Without physical evidence to place the defendant at the murder scene, Newberry said that all the state had to prove its case was eyewitness testimony from “snitches.”
Newberry quickly corrected himself and said, “jailhouse informants. Excuse me, your honor.”
That prompted Richardson to remind the attorneys in the room that he had not been the trial judge in the case. He called a recess and left the courtroom on the second floor of the Bee County Courthouse, taking Pruett’s case file with him.
When Richardson returned to the courtroom less than 30 minutes later, he read some of that eyewitness testimony that had come during Pruett’s murder trial in 2002.
What he read included statements from a list of inmates at the McConnell Unit who had seen or heard the attack on Nagle on Dec. 17, 1999.
Other testimony included that from inmates who said they had heard Pruett asking for access to a weapon. Some of the inmates also claimed they had heard Pruett claim he was going to kill Nagle.
The incident apparently was sparked when Nagle told Pruett that he was going to file a disciplinary report on him for bringing food into a part of the prison where food was prohibited.
In fact, it was that disciplinary report on which investigators found the bloody palm print that later was sent for DNA testing.
The print was inspected by at least two laboratories, and each time the results were inconclusive. One testing lab said that both the defendant and victim had similarities in their DNA profiles and those indicators would match about 30 percent of the general population.
Mark Edwards, prosecutor for the state, confirmed for Richardson that Pruett’s execution date had been postponed only once since he was sentenced to die by lethal injection following a 2002 trial in Corpus Christi.
Pruett was only 22 years old when the murder was committed. Investigators determined that Nagle had been stabbed numerous times with a prison-made “shank.” The weapon was described at the trial as a sharpened metal rod with a cloth handle wrapped on one end.
Prosecutors claimed at the trial that Pruett, who at one time had been the youngest inmate in the Texas prison system, had lured Nagle to the spot where the attack took place.
Richardson told Newberry and Dow that they could appeal his Wednesday ruling, and Dow indicated that they would appeal.
The head bailiff inside the courtroom Wednesday was former Police Chief Bill Lazenby. He was in charge of the TDCJ’s Region IV investigators at the time Nagle was killed, and he led the investigation into the murder.
Richardson ordered that Pruett be taken to the state’s execution chamber sometime after 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, and that he be executed by lethal injection.
The defendant is 34 years old. His 35th birthday will be in September.
Pruett was serving a life sentence on a murder conviction for taking part in the stabbing death of a man who lived in the same Houston trailer park where he lived with his family at the time.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.