Condemned killer's mom arrested over cell phone

October 20, 2008 8:50:40 PM PDT
Texas prison officials Monday arrested the mother of a death row inmate on charges she paid for cell phone minutes for an illegal phone that had been smuggled in to her condemned son. The inmate, Richard Tabler, shared the phone with nine other inmates, who made 2,800 calls in 30 days. Tabler called a key state senator, telling him he knew his daughters' names.

While Lorraine Tabler, 60, was being arrested at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on charges of providing a prohibited item to an inmate, Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials confiscated a phone from her son, prisoner Richard Tabler.

Tabler, 29, has been on death row since last year for a shooting spree in which two men and two teenage girls were killed in Bell County in central Texas during Thanksgiving weekend 2004.

Lorraine Tabler, of Blackshear, Ga., had flown to Texas to visit her son on death row at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston in East Texas.

She was being held Monday in Travis County awaiting a bond setting, said John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general.

"We're anticipating additional arrests," Moriarty said, but it wasn't immediately clear how Richard Tabler got the phone.

Prison officials said Richard Tabler and as many as nine other death row inmates made 2,800 calls from the cell phone in the last 30 days.

Authorities found out about the phone when Richard Tabler made several calls to state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, between Oct. 7 and 19.

"Whether it's a citizen or a senator, no one should be contacted by an incarcerated offender who is using an illegal cell phone," Criminal Justice Board chairman Oliver Bell said Monday.

Tabler told Whitmire he knew the Houston Democrat had two daughters, knew their ages and knew where they lived.

"He called his daughters by name," Moriarty said.

"Frankly, that scared the hell out of me," Whitmire told the Austin American-Statesman.

The inspector general's office opened a formal investigation Oct. 8, the day after the first call to Whitmire. Tabler called Whitmire again two days later.

Investigators determined the phone had been purchased in Waco in September 2007, that Lorraine Tabler had been buying time for the phone, including a purchase on Oct. 7 at a Wal-Mart store in Waycross, Ga. The investigation also determined that calls were coming to the phone as well as going out.

Moriarty said the phone apparently was being passed among the other nine inmates in Tabler's immediate cell block area.

Those inmates also face criminal charges or disciplinary actions.

Tabler surrendered the phone Monday without incident. He'd been using it Monday morning.

Early this month, Tabler was in court in Belton telling a Bell County judge he wanted to end appeals and volunteer for execution.

The Killeen man was convicted last year of fatally shooting Mohamed-Amine Rahmouni, 25, and Haitham Zayed, 28. He also confessed to killing Tiffany Dotson, 18, and Amber Benefield, 16. All four had ties to a Killeen strip club.

Illegal cell phone use is a continuing problem in prisons where the phones are considered a security breach and of particular value to gang members.

Moriarty said since Jan. 1, his investigators have closed or are working on 19 cases of prohibited cell phones or cell phone components on death row. Some 700 cases are being investigated systemwide among the state's nearly 160,000 prisoners, including one case where officials have an X-ray of an inmate with a phone and charger inside the prisoner's body.

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