Texas executed Quintin Jones, 41, on Wednesday night, for the 1999 beating death of his great aunt, Berthena Bryant. He was pronounced dead at 6:40 p.m. at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The reporters waiting across the street to witness the execution were never called over and only learned of Jones' death 30 minutes after he was pronounced dead, The Associated Press reports.
"The previous 570 executions carried out by Texas since capital punishment resumed in 1982 all had at least one media witness," AP reports, and The Huntsville Item noted that state policy guarantees an AP and Item reporter access to witness executions.
"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice can only apologize for this error and nothing like this will ever happen again," TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel told AP and The Item. "Somewhere in that mix there was never a phone call made to this office for me to accompany the witnesses across the street into the Huntsville Unit," and "my assumption is there will be a thorough investigation."
A flurry of appeals were rejected by various courts in the days leading up to Jones' execution, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of a stay Wednesday evening. Supporters of clemency for Jones noted that family members, including his great aunt's only sibling, had pleaded for his sentence to be commuted to life in prison. Jones personally pleaded with Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in an interview with The New York Times.
The Texas parole board denied Jones' petition on Tuesday and Abbott declined to step in. Abbott, who said "our creator endowed us with the right to life" earlier Wednesday when he signed one of the nation's most stringent laws limiting legal access to abortion, has granted clemency to only one death row inmate, Thomas Whitaker, since taking office in 2015, out of more than 50 people executed on his watch.
The Jones and Whitaker cases are similar, and Jones' lawyers filed a late petition arguing that the parole board had supported clemency for Whitaker, who is white, but denied it for Jones due to race. A judge denied the petition.
Prosecutors argued against clemency because Jones had exhibited violent behavior as a youth and admitted involvement in two other murders. The white man convicted of those two murders, Riky Roosa, is serving life in prison and will become eligible for parole in 2039, The Texas Tribune notes.