The State of Texas carried out its first execution of the year last night, putting Richard Masterson to death by lethal injection for the 2001 murder of Darin Honeycutt in Houston.
According to the Texas Tribune, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court both denied last-minute requests for stays of execution. One of those appeals challenged the constitutionality of a new Texas law that protects the identity of any person or entity providing the drugs used in lethal injections. The law was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature and went into effect on September 1, 2015.
Other appeals challenged the testimony of medical examiner, Paul Shrode, who conducted an autopsy of Mr. Honeycutt and declared his cause of death to be strangulation. Attorney Gregory Gardner argued that Honeycutt died of a heart attack.
From the Tribune:
In the same year as Honeycutt’s death, Shrode was written up by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office for wrongly determining a cause of death. In 2010, he was fired from his position as El Paso County chief medical examiner after a death row inmate in Ohio was granted clemency due to issues related to Shrode’s testimony in the case.
These incidents and the fact that the state did not reveal them to Masterson, Gardner argued, was cause for a stay and hearing. The request was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon, allowing the execution to move forward.
Pope Francis was following this case and expressed his sorrow upon learning of Masterson’s execution.
At this time, eight additional executions are scheduled to take place in Texas through July. On January 27, James Freeman is scheduled to be put to death for the murder of Game Warden Justin Hurst after a police chase in 2007 in Wharton County. His 2008 trial was the first death penalty case in Wharton since 1979.