The first execution in 2019 of a convicted murderer in the United States occurred Wednesday evening in the state of Texas, unsurprisingly, where a man convicted of murdering a Houston police officer in 1988 was put to death via lethal injection.
KTVT-TV in Dallas-Forth Worth reported that as officials prepared to execute 61-year-old Robert Jennings at the Huntsville Unit of the Texas prison system, dozens of uniformed police officers and law enforcement supporters gathered outside the prison and revved the engines on their motorcycles so loud that it could be heard by those inside of the execution chamber.
In all, more than 100 police officers gathered for the vigil during Jennings’ execution as a show of respect for his victim, Houston Officer Elston Howard, who had been gunned down by Jennings during the robbery of an adult bookstore in July 1988.
The Daily Mail identified the group of motorcyclists as the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, which is composed of current and former motorcycle officers.
They revved their engines in unison as a show of support for the fallen officer more than 30 years ago.
Those officers also stood and saluted as Howard’s mother and family walked past them on their way into the prison to witness the execution.
KTVT reported that Jennings asked a chaplain if he knew the name of the slain officer, and the chaplain didn’t respond.
Asked if he had any final words, Jennings said, “To my friends and family, it was a nice journey,” the Houston Chronicle reported.
“To the family of the police officer, I hope this finds you peace, and be well and stay safe,” he added. “Enjoy life’s moments because we never get them back.”
Jennings was officially pronounced dead at 6:33 pm, roughly 18 minutes after the lethal concoction had first been administered to him by prison officials.
KTVT noted that one of those in attendance at the execution was Howard’s nephew, Michael Agee, who is a Houston police officer.
“Justice has been rendered and my family can finally have the closure we deserve,” Agee said afterward.
Also in attendance, according to the Chronicle, was Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who when asked about the 30-year span between crime and execution, said, “Justice delayed is, to an extent, an injustice continued.”
“But when the state takes a life, there has to be a process,” the chief continued. “In this case, the day of reckoning is here. It’s a solemn occasion. For us it’s a celebration of a life well-lived by Officer Howard. We’re a family. That’s why we’re here.”
In 1988, Jennings had just been paroled after serving time on a robbery conviction. He and an accomplice proceeded to engage in a crime spree that included 10 additional robberies, including the adult bookstore. Howard, then a 24-year-old member of the vice unit, had been in the store arresting the owner for displaying pornography without a permit when Jennings entered and shot and killed him.
Jennings was arrested a few hours later at a Houston hospital, where he had gone to receive treatment for a gunshot wound to his hand. He had been shot by his accomplice, who had become angry when he discovered a police officer had been killed.
Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, noted that Jennings had spent more time sitting on death row than Howard had even been alive.
KHOU-TV in Houston reported that Gamaldi described Howard as “an honorable man full of integrity who did his job. He was absolutely one of the best and he was just taken entirely too soon by this animal who murdered him in cold blood.”
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