Death row inmate indicted in contraband case

May 2, 2009 7:13:10 AM PDT
A grand jury in East Texas on Friday indicted a Texas death row inmate and two relatives in an alleged cell phone smuggling case that led to a statewide prison lockdown. A Polk County grand jury also indicted 30-year-old Richard Lee Tabler on a felony retaliation charge for threatening to kill state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston. Polk County is home to the Polunsky Unit, which houses death row near Livingston.

Tabler was indicted along with his 60-year-old mother, Lorraine Tabler, and 36-year-old sister, Kristina Martinez of Salado, on charges of possessing contraband in a state prison, said Gina DeBottis, head of the state prison system's special prosecution unit. The third-degree felony carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

"We are sending a message with these indictments," DeBottis said in Friday's online edition of the Austin American-Statesman. "Our investigation is continuing."

Authorities accuse Lorraine Tabler and Martinez of paying for minutes on a cell phone that had been smuggled to their condemned relative. The minutes are a "component" of a cell phone that is illegal in a prison, prosecutors said.

Martinez didn't return a phone call from The Associated Press. Information on attorneys for Tabler and his mother wasn't immediately available.

Richard Tabler's alleged use of a cell phone from death row sparked a statewide prison sweep that led to the confiscation of hundreds of banned items, including cell phones and weapons.

The probe was tied to reports accusing Tabler of calling Whitmire and saying he knew the lawmaker's daughter's names. Whitmire is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which oversees prison operations. He reported the calls to authorities.

Tabler was condemned to die for two Killeen slayings in 2004. His execution date has not been set.

The grand jury also indicted Michael Roy Toney, 43, on similar contraband charges. Toney was on death row at the time of the investigation but has since been granted a new trial.

Toney was convicted in the Thanksgiving Day 1985 bombing in Fort Worth that killed three people.

A former guard and two Polunsky Unit inmates were also indicted for bribery amid allegations they paid the guard more than $1,100 over a few months to smuggle tobacco into the facility.

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