The federal government prepared Thursday to execute an inmate who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a 16-year-old Texas girl, bludgeoning her with a shovel and burying her alive.
Orlando Hall is scheduled to die by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
He would be the eighth federal inmate put to death since the Trump administration resumed federal executions this year after a hiatus of nearly two decades.
The Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter on Thursday to Attorney General William Barr, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic in urging the execution to be stayed.
The letter stated that the virus “will make any scheduled execution a tinderbox for further outbreaks and exacerbate concerns over the possibility of miscarriage of justice.”
Hall, now 49, was among five men convicted in the abduction and death of Lisa Rene in 1994.
According to federal court documents, Hall was a marijuana trafficker in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who would sometimes buy drugs in the Dallas area.
On Sept. 24, 1994, he met two men at a Dallas-area car wash and gave them $4,700 with the expectation they would return later with marijuana. The two men were Rene’s brothers.
Instead, the men claimed their car and money were stolen. Hall and others figured 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 weren’t there. Lisa Rene was home alone.
Court records offer a chilling account of the terror she faced.
“They’re trying to break down my door! Hurry up!” she told a 911 dispatcher. A muffled scream is heard seconds later, with a man saying, “Who you on the phone with?” The line then goes dead.
The men drove to a motel in Pine Bluff. Rene was repeatedly sexually assaulted during the drive and at the motel over the next two days.
On Sept. 26, Hall and two other men drove Rene to Byrd Lake Natural Area in Pine Bluff, her eyes covered by a mask. They led her to a grave they had dug a day earlier. Hall placed a sheet over Rene’s head then hit her in 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 the men doused her in gasoline and shoveled dirt over her.
A coroner determined that Rene was still alive when she was buried and died of asphyxiation in the grave, where she was found eight days later.
Crossing the Texas-Arkansas border made the case a federal crime.
One of Hall’s accomplices, Bruce Webster, was also sentenced to death, though a court last year vacated the sentence because Webster is intellectually disabled. Three other men, including Hall’s brother, received lesser sentences in exchange for their cooperation at trial.
Hall’s lawyers contend that jurors who recommended the death penalty weren’t told of the severe trauma he faced as a child or that he once saved a 3-year-old nephew from drowning by leaping into a motel pool from a balcony.
Donna Keogh, 67, first met Hall 16 years ago when she and other volunteers from her Catholic church set up a program to provide Christmas presents for children of inmates at the federal prison. They have corresponded ever since.
Keogh said Hall has two sons, ages 28 and 27, and 13 grandchildren.
“That’s one thing we talked about all the time was the grandbabies,” Keogh said.
Keogh said Hall is remorseful for his crimes and has turned his life around in prison, educating himself and becoming an avid reader.
“He seemed to be in a peaceful place, that he’s made his peace with God,” Keogh said.
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