death penalty news—-TEXAS

Oct. 20


Death row phone calls lead to arrests—-Lawmaker says he got calls from
inmate; authorities think others in prison also used phone.

State Sen. John Whitmire knew the phone call he received 2 weeks ago was
far from ordinary when he heard clanging steel doors and hollering. The
caller wanted to prove to Whitmire that he was in prison. On Texas' death
row, in fact.

Calling from what is supposed to be the securest part of Texas' prison
system, the caller told Whitmire, the chairman of the Senate Criminal
Justice Committee that oversees prison operations, that he knew that
Whitmire had 2 daughters.

The caller also knew their ages and where they lived in Houston, among
other personal details the convict said he had gleaned from the Internet.

"Frankly, that scared the hell out of me," said Whitmire, who quickly
notified authorities.

Over the next two weeks, the convict repeatedly phoned Whitmire to chat
about his crime and pending appeals. He also asked for help in getting his
grandmother in for a special prison visit, and let Whitmire know that he
was calling reporters, too.

This morning, in a cross-state police sting operation, authorities busted
condemned killer Richard Tabler in his cell and jailed Tabler's mother
after she arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on a flight
from her home in Georgia.

The charges: illegally possessing a cell phone in prison, and helping get
a cell phone in.

In all, investigators said, more than 2,800 calls have been made on
Tabler's cell phone during the past month alone. Authorities suspect at
least 10 other inmates on death row also used the phone to make calls
more than 300 by 1 convict alone.

At least four of the convicts who apparently used the phone to make calls
were suspected members of prison gangs, including the Texas Syndicate,
Aryan Brotherhood of Texas and the Crips, according to investigators.

Having a cell phone in prison could allow a convict to orchestrate an
assortment of crimes, even murder, from behind bars. It was unclear Monday
whether Tabler's phone had been used in connection with any crime.

Prison investigators suspect that guards are being bribed to help get the
phones in. Whitmire said Tabler, 29, told him he paid $2,100 to get his
phone onto death row. Authorities are still trying to determine how the
phone got on death row.

Prison officials confirmed that of the more than 670 cell phones seized
this year, 19 have been found on death row.

Cell phones have been a growing problem in Texas prisons in recent years,
though they are illegal for inmates to possess. The problem has ballooned
in the past year, with more than 800 cell investigations logged.

Two months ago, more than 60 cell phones were found secreted inside a
compressor being taken into the Stiles Unit near Beaumont.

"I want to know how an inmate on death row gets a cell phone in the first
place, and then how they and other inmates can make thousands of calls in
a month without getting caught," Whitmire said this morning, calling for
immediate action by prison officials to combat what he called "a lax
attitude on contraband."

"If this is the securest part of the prison system, then we've got a hell
of a problem. There's more security at Houston's municipal court building
than at our prison units."

The arrests triggered a rapid-fire sequence of events this morning: Prison
officials began an immediate sweep of Texas' death row for cell phones and
other contraband, authorities took steps to protect Whitmire from possible
inmate reprisals, and senators scheduled an emergency Capitol hearing for
Tuesday to demand answers from prison officials.

In 2007, Tabler was sentenced to death for the November 2004 shooting
deaths of two men in Killeen. He also served time in a California prison
for burglary and assaulting an officer, prison records show.

The investigation began about two weeks ago after Whitmire and the Austin
American-Statesman received several calls from an unidentified caller
offering information on abuse issues on death row. Within a day, Whitmire
became convinced the caller was a death row inmate, and he notified

At one point, he said the caller identified himself as Tabler.

"He called me several times during the next two weeks. He told me at one
point that we were buddies and buddies helped each other," Whitmire said.
"He didn't know what he could do for me, but he said he needed help
getting his grandmother in for a special visit."

Investigators learned that the phone, which had a Huntsville area code,
was purchased from a Wal-Mart in Waco about a year ago.

Subpoenaed records showed Tabler's mother had paid the cell phone bill,
officials said.

Soon after she was arrested as she arrived in Austin from a flight from
Atlanta, Lorraine Tabler, 61, of Blackshear, Ga., was to be booked into
the Travis County Jail on a felony charge of introducing contraband into a
state prison.

Tabler was arrested in his cell at about 10:30 a.m. today while talking on
the cell phone.

Authorities said Tabler had phoned at least 3 other reporters in recent
weeks including ones in Killeen, Temple and Dallas. At least one of those
reporters also notified police.

Immediately after today's arrests, Whitmire ordered an emergency meeting
of his Senate committee at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday for an explanation from
prison officials.

"Neither myself or anyone in society should have to put up with this,
where inmates have open access from prisons to commit new crimes,"
Whitmire said. "This has to end right now."

(source: Austin American-Statesman)