HOUSTON – A 61-year-old Texas inmate has been executed for killing a Houston police officer more than three decades ago.
Robert Jennings received lethal injection Wednesday evening for the July 1988 fatal shooting of Officer Elston Howard during a robbery at an adult bookstore.
He was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m. according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Jennings gave his last statement before his execution.
“To my friends and family, it was a nice journey. To the family of the police officer, I hope this finds you peace and be well and stay safe. Enjoy life’s moments because we never get them back,” Jennings said.
Tyesha Beller, Howard's daughter, posted this on Facebook before Jennings' execution:
Authorities say the 24-year-old Howard was killed during a crime spree by Jennings.
Jennings became the first inmate executed this year both in the U.S. and in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
Jennings' attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his execution, arguing his trial attorneys failed to ask jurors to fully consider evidence -- including details of his remorse for the officer's shooting and possible brain damage -- that might have spared him a death sentence.
The high court rejected the appeal early Wednesday evening.
"He actually has been on death row longer than Officer Elston Howard was alive. He was only 24 years old when he was brutally murdered," said Houston Police Officers' Union president Joe Gamaldi.
Court records said Howard, a vice officer, was arresting the clerk of an adult bookstore when Jennings walked in with the intent of robbing the business. Court documents stated Jennings didn't hesitate to shoot Howard, who was wearing a clearly marked HPD raid jacket. Howard tried to make his way out of the store, but collapsed. Court documents said Jennings followed Howard and shot him two more times after he collapsed.
"This person intentionally and knowingly assassinated Elston Howard - no doubt about that," said former HPOU President Ray Hunt.
Howard's murder came at the end of a string of six armed robberies Jennings committed at various businesses shortly after being released from prison, where he served 10 years of a 30-year sentence for aggravated robbery and burglary. Court records said after Jennings killed Howard and robbed the store clerk, he jumped into a car being driven by David Lee Harvell.
Police said when Jennings told his partner he killed someone during the robbery, Harvell ordered him to get out of the car. Police said Harvell grabbed the gun and shot Jennings in the hand as he was jumping out of the car. Jennings was arrested a short time later at Ben Taub Hospital and confessed to Howard's murder. Harvell was eventually arrested at his mother's house in Euless.
Harvell then led police to the murder weapon, which he dumped in Hudspeth County near El Paso. Harvell was sentenced to 55 years in prison for aggravated robbery and was recently paroled.
Gamaldi, Hunt and police Chief Art Acevedo witnessed the execution as a show of support for the family. Gamaldi said Howard's nephew is a Houston police officer.
"It means a lot that we can all rally around them during this time and be there for them," said Gamaldi.