Texas’ First Execution in Nearly a Year Had No Reporters Present

Quintin Jones, 41, had been convicted of killing a great-aunt and drew national attention when his relatives sought clemency.,

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SAN ANTONIO — A Texas man convicted of killing an older relative 22 years ago was put to death on Wednesday evening in Huntsville, Texas, as a spiritual adviser assigned to him and a witness from the public looked on.

Absent were two journalists who had been scheduled to attend the execution but whom prison officials said they had accidentally failed to summon.

The reporters, from The Associated Press and The Huntsville Item, a local outlet, were waiting at an office across the street as the man, Quintin Jones, was executed by lethal injection. Mr. Jones, 41, whose case had garnered national attention as his family pleaded for clemency, was the 571st person to be executed in Texas and the first in the state in nearly a year. He was convicted of the 1999 murder of his great-aunt Berthena Bryant.

Supporters of Mr. Jones expressed grief that clemency efforts had failed. Critics of the death penalty and civil liberty groups also denounced the fact that media outlets had not been granted access. Reporters traditionally cover executions to provide accountability to the public about the process; they have sometimes brought details of problems to light, including a faulty lethal injection in Oklahoma in 2014.

“Texas’ failure last night is destined to become a poster child for the lack of transparency and accountability in the U.S. execution process,” said Robert Dunham, the executive director for the Death Penalty Information Center, a fact-gathering organization that is critical of the practice.

Texas prison officials said the reporters had not been called in because of a miscommunication, and said they would look into what went wrong. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas demanded an investigation.

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“I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness,” Mr. Jones, 41, said shortly before he was executed by lethal injection. Credit…Jonah M. Kessel/The New York Times

Joseph Brown, the editor of The Huntsville Item, was scheduled to attend the execution and said he was disappointed by the lack of media access. Mr. Brown said it was important for reporters to be present during executions for the public good. He said he had covered 17 executions in three years.

“It is vital that we are there, because they are not going to record nuances, like someone saying, ‘It’s burning,’ or taking deep breaths,” Mr. Brown said.

In a statement, Jeremy Desel, a spokesman for the Texas prison system, said, “There was never a call made to summon the media witnesses into the unit.” He added, “We apologize for this critical error.”

Mr. Jones had exhausted his appeals in court and had recently pleaded to Gov. Greg Abbott for mercy.

Prosecutors said that Mr. Jones beat Ms. Bryant with a bat after she refused to give him money. He took $30 from her purse to buy drugs, prosecutors had said.

He was convicted of murder at his trial, and a jury sentenced him to death because he was also connected to two other murders — though he was never charged in those cases. In Texas, a person can be sentenced to death if the person is deemed a danger to others.

Relatives of Mr. Jones had hoped that his life would be spared. Mattie Long, the younger sister of Mr. Jones’s victim, had pleaded with the courts to let him live out the rest of his life in prison.

“Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot,” Ms. Long wrote in a letter requesting clemency. “Even so, God is merciful. Quintin can’t bring her back. I can’t bring her back. I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”

On Wednesday night, Mr. Jones was allowed to say his goodbyes minutes before his execution, according to records released by the state prison system shortly after.

“Love all my friends and all the friendships that I have made,” Mr. Jones said, according to those state prison records. “They are like the sky. It is all part of life, like a big full plate of food for the soul. I hope I left everyone a plate of food full of happy memories, happiness and no sadness.”

Then he said, “I’m done, warden.” He was pronounced dead at 6:40 p.m.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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