Inmate set to be executed for killing prison guard

A Texas inmate who says his death sentence was based on “false expert testimony” is facing execution for fatally stabbing a corrections officer at the TDCJ Clements Unit in Amarillo. 

Travis Runnels is set to receive a lethal injection Wednesday evening at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit for the Jan. 29, 2003 murder of Stanley Wiley. Court records show that Runnels was serving a 70-year sentence for armed robbery when the crime occurred.

On the morning of the murder, Runnels was working at the boot factory in the Clements Unit. Arriving at the factory, Runnels took a knife used for trimming leather, slipped up behind Wiley and slit his throat. Following the murder, wittnesses say that he told another inmate, "It could have been any offender or inmate, you know, as long as they was white."

Appeals by Runnels’ attorneys to stop his execution on claims of fake testimony have been turned down by lower courts. Runnel’s remaining appeal, before the U.S. Supreme Court, says that the testimony from Texas Special Prosecution Unit criminal investigator A.P. Merillat was false.

“Merillat testified for the purpose of proving that Mr. Runnels posed a future likelihood of committing ‘criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society,’ which the jury must find to impose a death sentence in Texas. Because Mr. Runnels’ pleaded guilty and his trial counsel presented no mitigating evidence in the penalty phase, his case turned almost entirely on this issue,” Runnels’ attorney Mark J. Pickett with The Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

“Merillat was not involved in the investigation of Mr. Runnels’ alleged crime. Nonetheless, he told the jury that Mr. Runnels would be classified ‘automatically’ as a “G-3” (general population) mid-grade offender and would enjoy a variety of freedoms, such as the ability to move about the prison unrestricted; the option to participate in work, visitation, and worship; and the opportunity to have frequent and unconfined access to other inmates and staff. This testimony was entirely false.”

If the execution happens, it would be the 21st in the U.S. and the ninth in Texas this year.