“I felt like I was a victim:” Texas inmate appeals to U.S. Supreme Court to halt execution

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HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected an appeal from a man set to be put to death for killing a San Antonio woman in 2004 and his lawyers said they’re taking their arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to halt the execution.

Attorneys for Texas death row inmate TaiChin Preyor say deficient legal help during earlier stages of his appeals tainted his case and that he should be spared from lethal injection so his appeals can be reviewed more fairly.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to accept the arguments about six hours before the scheduled execution, saying in part that his current attorney had known about the issues being raised for two years but waited until two weeks before Preyor’s planned punishment to begin seeking court relief.

Preyor fatally slashed 24-year-old Jami Tackett, who court records identified as Preyor’s drug supplier.

If executed, the 46-year-old Preyor would be the fifth inmate put to death in Texas this year and the 16th nationally.

Preyor’s lawyers, who earlier lost in the Texas courts and before a federal judge in San Antonio, contend an inexperienced California attorney who handled federal appeals in his case from 2011 to 2014 was “utterly unqualified.” They say she employed a disbarred lawyer for guidance, perpetrating a fraud on the courts.

State attorneys said the late appeals to reopen his case were legally improper and that it was Preyor’s decision to stay with the inexperienced lawyer who didn’t appear to miss any filing deadlines and filed appropriate pleadings. The disbarred lawyer wasn’t precluded from assisting Preyor’s attorney, state lawyers said.

Testimony showed that in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2004, Preyor, dressed in black and wearing a hood and gloves, kicked in the door of a San Antonio apartment where Tackett lived and kept drugs in a safe.

Tackett recognized Preyor when he barged into a bedroom, calling him by his nickname “Box.” He attacked her boyfriend, who escaped to a neighbor’s apartment and called for help. Evidence showed Preyor, a drug seller and user since adolescence, then stabbed Tackett and cut her throat.

Tackett died before paramedics arrived but was able to tell police “the guy who ran from the apartment did this,” John Economidy, Preyor’s lead defense attorney, recalled this week.

“(Preyor) is caught at the scene, and the dying declaration did not help us a whole lot,” Economidy said.

Preyor, in the second of two statements to San Antonio police, said Tackett and her boyfriend attacked him and that he “poked” at Tackett with a knife to protect himself.

“I felt like I was a victim,” he said. “I was the one being robbed, and I defended myself.”

He fled the apartment but returned because he lost his car keys in the struggle. By the time he tried to flee a second time, police had arrived and used pepper spray to subdue him. He was covered with the blood of his victims.

At least six other Texas prisoners are scheduled to be executed in the next several months.