HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas death row inmate whose threatening calls from a smuggled cellphone prompted an unprecedented lockdown of the entire Texas prison system six years ago has lost a federal court appeal.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, rejected arguments from Richard Lee Tabler that a competency hearing in which he waived his appeals violated his due process rights. The panel also rejected his argument that he had deficient legal help in his earlier appeals.
Tabler, 35, is condemned for a double murder in Killeen in Central Texas in 2004. He does not have an execution date.
He repeatedly has asked, even writing to the courts, that his appeals be dropped and that he be put to death. He also has changed his mind on that point on numerous occasions, and his attorneys have questioned whether he’s competent to make that decision. Judges at least twice have ruled him competent.
In its ruling late Friday, the 5th Circuit panel disputed arguments that Tabler’s previous appeals attorneys abandoned him, saying the lawyers were following his explicit instructions, that Tabler had been ruled competent and that it was reasonable for the attorneys “to comply with his directive not to argue otherwise.”
In a dissent, Judge James Dennis acknowledged the case “presents difficult and interesting issues about how courts should address the requests of a death-sentenced defendant to first waive his rights, including his right to life itself, and then revoke on the waiver.”
But he said the majority ruling was “not in accordance with law” and that Tabler’s previous appeals attorneys had a conflict of interest representing him in federal court because they also had been appointed to handle his state court appeals. That meant those same lawyers would have to argue about how they themselves were ineffective, Dennis said.
“The majority’s conclusion that Tabler’s counsel were effective is utter speculation,” Dennis wrote. “It is this court’s duty to apply the law, not abstract principles of fairness or policy.”
A phone call to Tabler’s attorney, Marcia Widder, at the Georgia Resource Center, a nonprofit law office that represents death row prisoners, was not answered Saturday.
In October 2008, Tabler used a smuggled cellphone to threaten a state senator. The call was among more than 2,800 traced to Tabler’s phone, which apparently got passed around to other inmates on his death row wing.
Texas prison officials locked down more than 150,000 inmates statewide — some of them confined to their cells for weeks — while officers swept the state’s more than 100 prisons to seize hundreds of contraband items.
Tabler was convicted of gunning down Mohammed-Amine Rahmouni, 28, and Haitham Zayed, 25, in 2004 in a remote area of Killeen. Evidence showed Rahmouni was manager of a strip club who banned Tabler from his place. Zayed was a friend of Rahmouni. Tabler also has acknowledged killing two dancers from the club, was charged with their slayings but hasn’t been tried.
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