Later today, William Keith Speer will become the seventh inmate executed in Texas this year — unless the state agrees to stay his execution
At 49, William Keith Speer has spent all but the first 16 years of his life behind bars — most of them on death row.
Speer’s execution — for strangling to death another inmate at the alleged direction of his former prison gang leader — is slated for later today. But Sammie Martin, the sister of the man Speer killed when he was 22, has asked the state of Texas to stay his execution.
“I have spent much time reflecting on what justice my brother and my family deserved,” Martin wrote in a letter filed in federal court earlier this week, the Associated Press reported. “In my heart, I feel that he is not only remorseful for his actions but has been doing good works for others and has something left to offer the world.”
In July 1997, Speer and Anibal Canales , Jr. (who is also on death row) strangled to death Gary Dickerson, a 47-year-old inmate, inside his cell, according to Speer’s online death row information.
“I am so aware of the things that I've done,” Speer, who at 16 was locked up on a life sentence for the capital murder of his friend’s father, said in a video submitted to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles earlier this month. “I'm so aware of the pain and the hurt that I've caused. I can just say, ‘I'm sorry.’”
Speer grew up under severe physical, emotional and sexual abuse, according to friends and family interviewed in the video. His father forcibly injected him with meth throughout his childhood, while his step-father – who later killed his mother – burned him with cigarettes, his supporters say. Around the age of 9 or 10, Speer was sexually abused by a 16-year-old boy.
As a teenager Speer became convinced that his friend’s father was abusing him, and he killed the father in response, the supporters say. The 16-year-old was thrown in Harris County Jail with adult prisoners, found ready to stand trial as an adult and, according to his online record, convicted of 1 count of capital murder with a deadly weapon.
Growing up behind bars, Speer joined a prison gang, according to the video, leading to his second murder conviction, which put him on death row about 22 years ago.
But the 6-foot, 215 pound man, who had just an eighth grade education when he first went behind bars, according to his online record, began turning his life around, family of both Speer and Dickerson say.
Speer, who was baptized in a giant kiddie pool in the prison yard, is now a frequent voice on the 6 a.m. prison radio Faith Based Program show. His supporters say his faith in God has given him the grounded stability he craved growing up and that he could spend the rest of his life in jail working as a field minister, making the lives of other inmates better, as he has already begun doing as an official mentor among his fellow prisoners.
“It all comes down to: is our world a better place with or without him?” said Reggie, a former inmate who knew him from Harris County Jail and was interviewed by the Texas Defender Service for the video. “And it’s a no-brainer. It’s a better place with him. Period.”
Dickerson’s sister – his only surviving sibling, according to the AP – has changed her mind about Speer since testifying at his murder trial. While the death of her brother devastated her family, she does not believe justice for her brother’s killing would be found in the death of his killer, she told the court this week.
But lawyers for the Texas Attorney General’s Office responded in court filings this week that “the state retains its interest in deterring gang murders and prison violence, as well as seeing justice done for Dickerson,” the AP reported.
Twenty inmates in five states have been put to death across the country so far this year, according to an execution list updated earlier this month by the Death Penalty Information Center. More than half of those executions have occurred in Florida and Speer’s home state of Texas. If Speer’s execution goes forward as scheduled, he would become the seventh person that Texas executed this year.
“Nobody's entitled to — to any of this,” Speer said in the video where he pleaded the state for his life. “I'm appealing for this opportunity to give more — to give back. Not because I've done something and I’ve become entitled to a different change. That's not what I'm saying at all. But what I am asking is for the opportunity to be able to give the love that I've been given.”
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