Texas inmate who sought to stop his execution for religious freedom violations and indifference towards his medical needs is set to die Wednesday night. He was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her 7 year-old son 17 years ago.
Stephen Barbee (55) is scheduled for a lethal injection at Huntsville’s state penitentiary. For the deaths of Lisa Underwood (34), and Jayden (34), in February 2005, he was sentenced. Both of them were found dead at their Fort Worth home. Later, they were found in a shallow grave in Denton County.
Barbee’s lawyers have requested that the U.S. Barbee’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution. They claim that his religious rights have been violated by the fact that the state prison system did not establish a written policy regarding the matter after a ruling of the high court on what spiritual advisors can do in execution chambers.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in March that states must honor the wishes of death row prisoners who wish to have their faith leaders pray for them and touch them during executions. Although Texas prison officials did not update their policy, they said that they would examine each case and grant all reasonable requests.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt issued a preliminary order in Houston earlier this month. It stated that Barbee could not be executed until the state published a policy on spiritual advisors that protects inmates’ religious rights. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rescinded Hoyt’s injunction claiming it was too broad.
Hoyt issued Tuesday’s new injunction, which was specifically focused on Barbee’s rights. The Texas Attorney General’s Office appealed immediately to the 5th Circuit. This circuit would need to issue a ruling before the Supreme Court could address the matter.
In a court filing, the Texas Attorney General’s Office stated that Barbee’s claims were moot because state prison officials allow Barbee’s spiritual advisor to touch him and prayer aloud during his execution.
Hoyt also denied Tuesday’s separate request from Barbee’s lawyers for an execution stop over claims that the inmate’s rights to avoid cruel or unusual punishments would be violated. According to Barbee’s lawyers, Barbee suffers from physical limitations that restrict his movement in his shoulders and arms. He would feel “intolerable pain” if executed in the normal way with his arms extended on the gurney for IV lines to administer the lethal injection.
Hoyt was informed by lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s Office that they would make arrangements for Barbee, allowing his arms to be bent and finding another place to place IV lines if necessary.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously rejected Monday’s request to commute Barbee’s death sentence to a less severe penalty or to grant a reprieve of four months.
Prosecutors claimed that Barbee murdered his ex-girlfriend and their son because he didn’t want his wife knowing Underwood was seven months pregnant. Later DNA evidence proved Barbee was not the father. Underwood was the owner of a Fort Worth bagel shop that was named after her son. After failing to turn up at a baby-shower, she and her son were reported as missing.
Barbee admitted to police that he had killed Underwood and her child, but later retracted his confession. Barbee claimed that he was forced to confess, but he later retracted. His business partner was also implicated in the slaying.
In February 2006, his trial and sentencing took less than three hours.
Barbee will receive a lethal injection the same day that Arizona plans to execute Murray Hooper . Hooper was convicted of killing two people in a Phoenix home robbery on New Year’s Eve 1980. Hooper will be executed on Wednesday at 11 AM CST.
Barbee would be the fifth Texas inmate executed if he is executed. He is the last execution scheduled in Texas this year.