The state of Texas executed the accomplice in a 1974 murder early this morning, despite the fact that the triggerman in the fatal shooting is eligible for parole.
"This case shows the capriciousness of the death penalty," said Charles Sullivan, director of Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE). "This is really blatant. In effect we've turned the death penalty upside down."
Sullivan Tuesday afternoon delivered to Texas Gov. Mark White (D) a petition signed by 15 state legislators seeking a 30-day reprieve for the condemned man, Doyle Skillern. But the governor denied the request Tuesday evening, saying he could not find adequate basis for delaying "the enforcement of the state courts' judgment."
Skillern, 48, died by lethal injection at 1:23 EST for the slaying of Patrick Randel, 40, a Texas Department of Public Safety undercover narcotics agent.
According to court testimony, Skillern did not shoot Randel. He was waiting in a stolen car nearby while Randel was shot six times by Charles Sanne, 51.
Under Texas' "law of parties," both men were convicted of first-degree murder. Skillern was given the death penalty when the jury -- aware that he had murdered his brother -- concluded that he posed a continuing threat to society.
The jury did not make the same judgment about Sanne, who had a record of less serious offenses. He was given a life sentence.
Both convictions were then thrown out by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals because jurors were not sequestered before punishment deliberations. Both men were retried and convicted. This time, both were given the death penalty. But the Court of Criminal Appeals changed Sanne's sentence to life, ruling that it would be double jeopardy to increase the sentence to death after the second trial.
"We don't feel that justice is being done in this case," Skillern's sister, Peggy Carriere, said before the execution. Last week she asked the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute the sentence because Skillern did not pull the trigger. The request was denied.
Skillern's attorney, Shannon Salyer, appealed Tuesday for a last-minute stay from the U.S. Supreme Court on the ground that it has not yet ruled on a separate Skillern appeal concerning the use of drugs in the lethal injection. But Tuesday afternoon the court voted, 6 to 2, not to postpone the execution.
The high court already had declined to hear an appeal of the death sentence based on the different punishments of the two murderers. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on that question last year, saying that Skillern's intimate involvement in plotting the murder made the case different from a Florida case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unfair for an accomplice who drove a getaway car.
According to testimony in the case, Randel had arranged to make an undercover drug purchase from Skillern and Sanne on Oct. 24, 1974. The two learned that he was an undercover agent and, according to the prosecution, plotted his murder.
"Sanne is the one that actually pulled the trigger, but the evidence is that the gun that in all likelihood did the killing was Mr. Skillern's gun," prosecutor John Flinn said in his summation in the second trial.
"Who was the mastermind? Who furnished the gun? Who got the money? Who got the replacement gun? There he sits. Is he connected? Without a doubt," Flinn said of Skillern.
In 1971, Skillern was sentenced to five years in prison for murdering his brother.
"The critical issue is future dangerousness," said Texas Assistant Attorney General Duane Crowley, who resisted the petition for commutation. "The sentence is in conformance with the law."
Gara LaMarche, director of the Austin Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: "However it may be justified legally, on moral and humane grounds it's just obscene . . . . I have a real problem about basing the death penalty on factors that rely on people to predict future behavior."
Sanne said he was "bitter" about the disparity of sentences, adding, "The person ending up with the harshest punishment was not responsible."
However, Sanne, who is eligible for parole in June, said he would not trade places with Skillern.
Skillern spent Tuesday afternoon with family members and asked several of them to witness his execution.