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Texas executes Billy Joe Wardlow in 1993 killing of elderly man after 5-month delay due to Covid-19 outbreak

Wardlow became the second death row prisoner to receive the lethal injection in the country since the pandemic shutdowns
(Texas Department of Criminal Justice)
(Texas Department of Criminal Justice)

A 45-year-old inmate from Texas was administered a lethal injection on the evening of Wednesday, July 8, for shooting and killing an 82-year-old man nearly three decades ago. Billy Joe Wardlow's execution ended a five-months' delay amidst the coronavirus pandemic in the country's busiest death penalty state. Wardlow became the first inmate in Texas since February 6 to receive a lethal injection and second in the country ever since the US began opening shutdowns linked to the pandemic.

Wardlow was given the death penalty for killing Carl Cole at his home in Cason, near Dallas in the East Texas piney woods in June 1993. According to prosecutors, Wardlow, in his written confession, said that Cole "was shot like an executioner would have done it." Wardlow, who stole a truck from Cole, was 18 at the time of the killing.
The 45-year-old's attorney had reportedly argued against decisions made by the jurors to impose the death penalty based on the idea that Wardlow posed a future danger. His attorneys had argued that before imposing a death sentence, Texas jurors have to determine whether a defendant will be a future danger, and that decision cannot be reliably made for people younger than 21, according to the Daily Mail. The lawyers cited scientific research stating that studies have shown that the brains of people under the age of 21 are still developing. 

His attorneys had asked the US Supreme Court to intervene and stop Wardlow's execution, saying he committed a "poorly-thought-out and naively-motivated robbery" to steal a truck so he could run away with his girlfriend. The Supreme Court, however, declined to stop Wardlow's execution. His execution date had been moved from April 29 to July 8 by a judge after Morris County District Attorney Steve Cowan requested the shift citing the statewide disaster declaration. 

Although the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Texas has risen significantly over recent weeks, state prison officials have said that safety measures have been instated to help executions continue. Reports state that at least six executions scheduled in Texas for earlier this year were postponed by the courts considering the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Prosecutors, in the case, had argued that there as no constitutional error made when the jurors considered Wardlow's future dangerousness and added that society has long used the age of 18 for distinctions between children and adults. Texas attorney general's office, in a petition filed with the Supreme Court, said: "Wardlow senselessly executed elderly Carl Cole to steal his truck, something that could have been taken without violence because the keys were in it."

The court reportedly had also denied Wardlow's petitions over claims that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, on Monday, July 6, turned down his clemency petition. Wardlow's brain development petition was based on the Supreme Court's 2005 decision where it banned the execution of offenders younger than 18 when they commit crimes. The top court, at the time, had cited research showing that juveniles' character and personality traits are not fully formed like adults.