Texas Death Row Inmate to Be Executed, Victim’s Sister Requests Clemency

Kos Temenes
By Kos Temenes
October 26, 2023US News
Texas Death Row Inmate to Be Executed, Victim’s Sister Requests Clemency
Texas death row inmate William Speer, who faces execution on Oct. 26, 2023, for killing another prisoner more than 26 years ago. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

A Texas inmate is facing imminent execution even though the victim’s sister and religious leaders have asked authorities not to take his life. The man is set to receive a lethal injection at the Huntsville state penitentiary on the evening of Oct. 26 for killing another prisoner more than 25 years ago.

William Speer, 49, was condemned for strangling Gary Dickerson to death in July 1997 at the Telford state prison near New Boston in northeast Texas.

“I am so aware of the things that I’ve done. I’m so aware of the pain and the hurt that I’ve caused. I could just say that I’m sorry,” Mr. Speer said in a video submitted as part of his clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

According to Mr. Speer’s lawyers, he underwent a significant transformation while incarcerated. This included his showing remorse for his actions, and helping lead a religious program that ministers to other death row inmates, they said.

His attorneys had asked state and federal courts to halt the execution on a number of grounds, one being that prosecutors at his 2001 trial allegedly failed to disclose evidence and presented false testimony.

Prosecutors also allegedly failed to present evidence about Mr. Speer’s troubled childhood, which included physical and sexual abuse. The prosecutors subsequently denied the allegations against them.

Another reason Mr. Speer’s attorneys had asked to stop his execution involved claims regarding the state’s supply of pentobarbital. The attorneys claimed that the state’s inventory of the drug, which is commonly used in executions, was exposed to extreme heat during a recent fire, making it unsafe for use.

Appeals on the latter claim were recently denied by a federal judge and Texas’ top criminal appeals court. Another inmate, Jedidiah Murphy, made a similar claim which was also denied, after the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the execution drugs were tested after the fire for potency and sterility. Mr. Murphy was executed earlier this month.

Mr. Speer had been serving a life sentence for murder at the time of inmate Dickerson’s killing. At age 16, Mr. Speer fatally shot a friend’s father, Jerry Collins, at the man’s home near Houston.

On Oct. 24, the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 against commuting Mr. Speer’s death sentence to a lesser penalty. The board members also rejected granting a six-month reprieve.

Mr. Speer killed Mr. Dickerson in a bid to join the Texas Mafia prison gang, according to prosecutors. The gang ordered the hit after mistakenly concluding Mr. Dickerson had informed authorities about tobacco it had tried to smuggle into the prison.

Mr. Dickerson’s murder resulted in life sentences for Mr. Speer and Anibal Canales Jr., another inmate who currently remains on death row.

At Mr. Speer’s trial, Sammie Martin, who is Mr. Dickerson’s only living sibling, told jurors her mother was devastated by her brother’s death. Now, however, she has requested that Mr. Speer’s life be spared.

“I have spent much time reflecting on what justice my brother and my family deserved. In my heart, I feel that he is not only remorseful for his actions but has been doing good works for others and has something left to offer the world,” Ms. Martin wrote in federal court documents filed this week, adding that prosecutors never informed her about Mr. Speer’s scheduled execution.

Lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s Office said in court documents filed this week that despite Ms. Martin’s feelings about Mr. Speer’s execution, “the state retains its interest in deterring gang murders and prison violence, as well as seeing justice done for Dickerson.”

Multiple religious leaders from around the country had also requested clemency for Mr. Speer. A letter sent to the parole board and Gov. Greg Abbott stated that although Mr. Speer’s religious work with other prisoners “does not excuse his actions, it gives a fuller picture of who Will is as a human, Christian, leader, and teacher.”

Mr. Speer is set to be the 7th inmate in Texas and the 21st in the United States to be put to death this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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