Texas resumes executions after 5-month delay due to pandemic

Texas executions fewer in 2019 than previous year
Texas executions fewer in 2019 than previous year

HOUSTON – A Texas inmate received lethal injection Wednesday evening for fatally shooting an 82-year-old man nearly three decades ago, ending a five-month delay of executions in the nation’s busiest death penalty state because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Billy Joe Wardlow was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the June 1993 killing of Carl Cole at his home in Cason, about 130 miles (209 kilometers) east of Dallas in the East Texas piney woods, near the Louisiana and Arkansas borders.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the 45-year-old man’s execution.

Wardlow was the first inmate in Texas to receive a lethal injection since Feb. 6 and the second in the U.S. since the nation began reopening following pandemic-related shutdowns.

Strapped to the death chamber gurney, Wardlow declined to make a final statement when asked by the warden. He did nod and smile broadly, mouthing words to several friends who watched through a window from an adjacent witness room.

As the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital was administered, he took three deep breaths, snored twice and then took a couple shallow breaths before all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead 24 minutes later, at 6:52 p.m. CDT.

A judge had moved Wardlow’s execution date from April 29 to Wednesday after Morris County District Attorney Steve Cowan requested the change citing the statewide disaster declaration due to the virus.

In Texas, the number of confirmed COVID-19 virus cases and hospitalizations have risen in recent weeks. But state prison officials say safety measures they’ve put in place will help executions to go forward. Execution witnesses on Wednesday were given masks and gloves. All prison officers and officials wore masks. Wardlow did not have one.