HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Texas' top criminal court called off Wednesday's scheduled execution of a death row inmate linked to five killings in Houston, though attorneys said the court didn't immediately explain its decision.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a reprieve Tuesday afternoon to inmate Garcia White, 51, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of fatally stabbing twin 16-year-old girls at a Houston apartment where their mother also was killed. White also was tied to the deaths of a grocery store owner and a prostitute.
Another inmate is scheduled for execution Thursday for a separate crime in the nation's busiest death-penalty state.
A copy of the court's order was not immediately available Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether the court would schedule a hearing on White's appeal or send it back to a lower court.
In their appeal, White's attorneys argued he may have been mentally impaired because of longtime cocaine use when he waived his right to an attorney during interrogations and that the courts should take that into consideration. They also said DNA evidence suggests a second person may have been involved in the triple slaying and that previously unknown factor may have affected the strategy of White's defense team.
"We don't know why they granted (a reprieve)," attorney Mandy Miller said. "Apparently one of (the issues) was interesting enough at least."
Lynn Hardaway, an assistant Harris County district attorney, said she was surprised with the ruling but had no specifics on the court's reasons.
The bodies of Bonita Edwards, 35, and her 16-year-old daughters Annette and Bernette were found at their Houston apartment a few days after they were last seen in December 1989. But his confession came only after he was arrested six years later, for the July 1995 death of 55-year-old Hai Van Pham, who was fatally beaten during a robbery at his Houston store.
White told police he went to Edwards' home to smoke crack cocaine and killed her during an argument, then attacked one of her daughters when she came out of her room. Evidence shows the attacker also broke down the locked door of the girls' bedroom.
"I stabbed one in the bedroom and one in the living room," White told detectives, who said both girls' throats were slit.
White was convicted of killing the teenagers and charged but not tried for the deaths of Bonita Edwards and Pham. Authorities also linked but never charged White, who played one year of football at Lubbock Christian University, to the slaying of a prostitute.
Another inmate, Robert Ladd, 57, is set for execution Thursday. Ladd was convicted of fatally beating 38-year-old Vickie Ann Garner of Tyler in 1996.
Ladd and White are plaintiffs in an unrelated lawsuit filed Tuesday that seeks a separate federal court order to block Texas prison officials from carrying out executions until the "quality and viability" of the pentobarbital to be used in the lethal injection process can be examined and verified, according to the lawsuit.
The suit contends the pentobarbital vials in the Texas prison system's inventory, purchased from an unidentified compounding pharmacy, "are no longer viable and will cause excruciating pain."
The Texas Attorney General's office called the suit "nothing more than rank speculation regarding Texas' current drug supply" that's been used to carry out three executions, including one last week.
Attorneys for the inmates contended if pentobarbital could not be used, Texas could tap into a supply of other drugs in its inventory, including the sedative midazolam, which was used in Oklahoma last year for an execution that went awry. The Supreme Court last week agreed to examine whether the drug can be used for executions.
"The mere fact that TDCJ is in possession of midazolam (or any other drug) means nothing," Fredericka Sargent, an assistant Texas attorney general, said in a court filing.