HIGH EARTH, Ind. – Orlando Hall was the victim of a drug deal and went to a Texas apartment to find the two brothers who took his money. They weren’t home, but their 16 year old sister was.
Late Thursday, Hall was put to death for kidnapping and killing teenage Lisa Rene. It was the eighth federal execution this year since the Trump administration revived a process that had only been used three times in the past 56 years. A stay of the judges over execution drug concerns gave Hall a reprieve, but for less than six hours. After the Supreme Court overturned the stay, he was put to death just before midnight.
Hall, a man turned to prison according to his lawyers and a church volunteer who had grown up near him, consoled his family and followers in the end. I’m OK, he said in a closing statement, then adding: Take care of yourself. Tell my kids that I love them.
As the drug was being administered, Hall, 49, lifted his head, appeared to wince briefly, and shook his feet. He seemed to mumble to himself and twice opened his mouth wide, as if yawning. Each time, this was followed by short, seemingly labored breaths. He then stopped breathing. Shortly after, an official with a stethoscope entered the execution chamber to check if the heart was beating before Hall was officially pronounced dead.
Halls’ lawyers had also sought to stop the execution fearing that Hall, who was black, had been convicted on the recommendation of an all-white jury. The Congressional Black Caucus has called on Attorney General William Barr to stop him as the coronavirus will make any planned execution a powder keg for further outbreaks and exacerbate concerns about the possibility of a miscarriage of justice, according to a letter to Barr.
Meanwhile, another judge ruled Thursday that the US government must postpone until next year the first execution of a federal female inmate in nearly six decades after her lawyers contracted the coronavirus while visiting her in prison. Lisa Montgomery was to be put to death on December 8.
Hall was one of five men sentenced for the kidnapping and death of Lisa Rene in 1994.
According to federal court documents, Hall was a marijuana dealer in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who occasionally purchased drugs in the Dallas area. On September 24, 1994, he met two men at a Dallas-area car wash and gave them $ 4,700 in the hopes that they would come back with the marijuana later. The two men were Renes brothers.
Instead, the men claimed their car and money had been stolen. Hall and others thought they were lying and were able to track down the address of the brothers’ apartment in Arlington, Texas.
When Hall and three other men arrived, the brothers were not there. Lisa Rene was at home alone.
The court records offer a chilling account of the terror she faced.
They are trying to break down my door! Hurry up! she said to a 911 dispatcher. A muffled scream is heard seconds later, with a man saying, Who are you on the phone with? The line then goes out.
She was studying for a test and had her textbooks on the couch when these guys knocked on the front door, recalls retired Arlington Detective John Stanton Sr. Police arrived within minutes of the call. 911, but the men were gone, with René. Stanton still grins at the near absence of thwarting crime in his early days.
It was one that I will never forget, said Stanton. This one was particularly odious.
The men drove to a motel in Pine Bluff. René was sexually assaulted several times during the drive and at the motel over the next two days.
On September 26, Hall and two other men led René to the Lake Byrd Natural Area in Pine Bluff, their eyes covered by a mask. They took her to a grave they had dug a day earlier. Hall placed a sheet over Renes’ head then hit her on the head with a shovel. When she ran another man and Hall took turns hitting her with the shovel before she was gagged and dragged into the grave, where she was sprayed with gasoline before the dirt was deposited on her.
A coroner determined that René was still alive when she was buried and died of asphyxiation in the grave, where she was found eight days later.
Renes’ older sister Pearl Rene said in a statement that she and her family were very relieved that it was over. We have been dealing with this for 26 years and now we have to relive the tragic nightmare that our beloved Lisa went through.
Crossing the Texas-Arkansas line made the case a federal crime. One of Halls’ accomplices, Bruce Webster, was also sentenced to death, although a court overturned the sentence last year because Webster is intellectually disabled. Three other men, including Halls’ brother, were given lesser sentences in return for their cooperation in the trial.
Halls’ lawyers say jurors who recommended the death penalty were not told about the severe trauma he suffered as a child or that he once saved a 3-year-old nephew from drowning by jumping in a motel pool from a balcony.
Donna Keogh, 67, first met Hall 16 years ago when she and other volunteers from her Catholic church started a program to provide Christmas gifts to children of federal prison inmates. They have since corresponded.
She doesn’t understand what Hall’s execution accomplishes.
My faith tells me that all life is precious and that includes lives on death row, Keogh said. I don’t see any purpose.
Five of the first six federal executions this year involved white men; the other was Navajo. Christopher Vialva, who was black, was put to death on September 24.
Critics have argued that the execution of white detainees was primarily a political calculation in a racially prejudiced country involving the criminal justice system, particularly following the death of George Floyds in Minneapolis in May. .
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