HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A Texas inmate was executed Wednesday for setting a fire that killed his 18-month-old daughter and her two young half-sisters at an East Texas home 15 years ago.
Raphael Holiday, 36, became the 13th convicted killer put to death this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state. It has accounted for half of all executions in the U.S. so far this year.
Asked by a warden if he had a final statement, Holiday thanked his "supporters and loved ones."
"I love y'all," he said. "I want you to know I'm always going to be with you."
He thanked the warden. As the lethal dose of pentobarbital began, he took two deep breaths and appeared to yawn, his mouth remaining open as he wheezed several times. Then all movement stopped.
Nineteen minutes later, at 8:30 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead.
Holiday never addressed or looked at witnesses, including the children's grandfather and mother, his former common-law wife. The mother initially stood at the back of the death chamber witness area, watching from behind a corrections officer. About 10 minutes later, with Holiday motionless on the death chamber gurney, she walked toward a window to see him.
She and other relatives of the slain children declined to speak with reporters afterward.
The punishment was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal seeking to halt Holiday's punishment so new attorneys could be appointed to pursue additional unspecified appeals in his case. Austin-based lawyer Gretchen Sween argued that Holiday's court-appointed attorneys abandoned him after the justices in June refused to review his case. Those lawyers advised Holiday his legal issues were exhausted and new appeals and a clemency petition would be fruitless.
Earlier Wednesday, the judge in Holiday's trial court stopped the execution after Holiday's trial attorney filed an appeal saying the conviction and some trial testimony were both improper. The judge agreed the issues should be reviewed and withdrew his execution warrant. The Texas attorney general's office appealed, the judge's order was voided and the warrant reinstated, clearing the way for the lethal injection to move forward more.
The execution took place about 2 ½ hours later than scheduled because of the late state court appeal.
Holiday told The Associated Press recently from a visiting cage outside death row that he didn't know how the log cabin he once shared with his wife and the children in the Madison County woods about 100 miles north of Houston caught fire in September 2000.
"I loved my kids," Holiday said. "I never would do harm to any of them."
Evidence and testimony showed Holiday was irate over a protective order his estranged wife obtained after his arrest for sexually assaulting one of the children. Holiday, from prison, contended he knew nothing about the assault.
According to court records, he showed up at the home and forced the girls' grandmother at gunpoint to douse the interior with gasoline. After it ignited, he sped away in the grandmother's car, hit a police car that arrived outside the cabin and then led officers on a chase that ended two counties away when he wrecked.
Defense attorneys at his trial suggested an electrical problem or a pilot light started the blaze in the early hours of Sept. 6, 2000, killing Holiday's daughter, Justice, and her half-sisters, Tierra Lynch, 7, and Jasmine DuPaul, 5.
The girls' grandmother told a jury she watched Holiday bend down and then the flames erupted, court records show. Jurors convicted him of capital murder and decided he should be put to death.
The lethal injection was the last one scheduled for Texas this year, but at least five inmates have execution dates set for early next year.
Texas carried out 10 executions in 2014.