A 61-year-old Texas inmate was executed Wednesday evening for killing a Houston police officer more than three decades ago.
Robert Jennings received lethal injection for the July 1988 fatal shooting of Officer Elston Howard during a robbery at an adult bookstore that authorities said was part of a crime spree.
As witnesses filed into the death chamber, Jennings asked a chaplain standing next to him if he knew the name of the slain officer. The chaplain didn’t appear to respond, and a prison official then told the warden to proceed with the punishment.
“To my friends and family, it was a nice journey,” Jennings said in his final statement. “To the family of the police officer, I hope y’all find peace. Be well and be safe and try to enjoy life’s moments, because we never get those back.”
Outside the prison, more than 100 officers stood vigil. And a motorcycle club that supports police revved their engines, with the roar from the bikes audible in the chamber.
Jennings was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m., 18 minutes after the drug started. He became the first inmate put to death this year both in the U.S. and in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.
“Justice has been rendered and my family can finally have the closure we deserve,” Michael Agee, Howard’s nephew and a current Houston officer, said after watching Jennings die.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, asked about the 30-plus years between the crime and the punishment, said he thought “justice delayed is, to an extent, an injustice continued.”
“But when the state takes a life, there has to be a process,” Acevedo said. “In this case, the day of reckoning is here. It’s a solemn occasion. For us it’s a celebration of a life well-lived by Officer Howard. We’re a family. That’s why we’re here.”
His attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his execution, arguing Jennings’ trial attorneys failed to ask jurors to fully consider evidence — including details of his remorse for the officer’s shooting and possible brain damage — that might have spared him a death sentence.