Texas executes 1 death row inmate, 2nd wins a commutation

Time was running short Wednesday for one Texas death row inmate who faces execution in a matter of hours, but a second inmate won a commutation of his death sentence. (File)
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HOUSTON (AP) A white supremacist gang member was executed Wednesday evening in Huntsville for strangling a West Texas woman over fears she would alert police about his drug operation, but earlier in the day another inmate’s death sentence was commuted.

Justen Hall, 38, received a lethal injection just after 6 p.m. Wednesday at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

He was sentenced to die for the October 2002 killing of 29-year-old Melanie Billhartz.

Prosecutors say Hall strangled Billhartz with an extension cord from his El Paso drug house and buried her body in the New Mexico desert.

His attorneys had asked to stop the execution, alleging he wasn't competent.

But Hall previously said he was competent and acknowledged killing Billhartz.

Prosecutors said two experts in 2017 also found Hall to be competent.

Hall was the 19th inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the eighth in Texas.

Meanwhile Wednesday the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accepted a second U.S. Supreme Court decision that death row inmate Bobby James Moore, 60, is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed.

The appeals court on Wednesday wrote that the Supreme Court's second ruling that Moore cannot be put to death because of mental disability "is determinative."

It says there's no alternative, but to commute the sentence to life in prison.

The appeals court in June 2018 found James mentally competent for execution, despite an earlier Supreme Court ruling that his intellectual capacity was improperly assessed and agreement by prosecutors that he shouldn't qualify for the death penalty.

Moore has been on death row since 1980 for the shooting death of Houston grocery store clerk James McCarble, 72, during a robbery.