HOUSTON – The oldest condemned man in Texas has died at age 78 of natural causes, a Texas prisons spokesman said Friday.
Jack Harry Smith had been on death row since October 1978 for a fatal shooting during a $90 robbery of a Houston store. Only three among about 250 prisoners now awaiting execution in Texas have been on death row longer.
Smith had been in poor health for years and was taken from death row to the medical facility a week ago. He died Friday afternoon at the medical facility at the Estelle Unit in Huntsville, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court had refused an appeal from Smith after a federal appeals court rejected arguments by his lawyers challenging his 1978 conviction and death sentence. Smith had convictions for robbery-assault and theft in 1955 and another robbery-assault conviction in 1959 that earned him a life prison term. He also had a prison escape attempt in 1963.
Smith was paroled from his life sentence on Jan. 8, 1977, after serving 17 years. One day short of a year later, on Jan. 7, 1978, Smith and an accomplice were arrested the same day Roy A. Deputter was gunned down while trying to stop a holdup at a Houston convenience store known as Corky's Corner.
The accomplice, Jerome Lee Hamilton, received a life sentence and testified against Smith, who received a death sentence. Smith, a former welder who completed only six years of school, arrived on death row on Oct. 9, 1978. He'd been there since.
The Supreme Court rejected a previous appeal from Smith in 1985, but little happened in the case after that. Unlike procedures now in place, no deadlines then forced appeals to move through the courts. Attorneys suggested the trial judge, who died in 1997, wasn't inclined to move the case forward.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2001, Smith complained about the lack of progress.
"I feel that the system is waiting for me to pass away of old age," said Smith, who said his health problems included cancer. "I'm angry at the justice system, at the courts for wasting taxpayers' money for giving me this hospitality."
He said he never was in the store where Deputter was killed.
A witness identified Smith as one of two gunmen — one armed with a shotgun and the other with a pistol.
Deputter, who lived behind the store and helped out the owner, walked in on the holdup, pulled his own gun and exchanged shots with the robbers. He was shot once in the heart and once in the head. Besides Hamilton, a cashier at the store also testified against Smith at his trial.
Hamilton was paroled in February 2004. Smith said he was offered a life sentence before his trial but refused to plead guilty to a crime he said he didn't do.