Lawmaker: Death row inmate made Web threats

September 5, 2009 5:10:42 AM PDT
Prison officials are investigating whether a Texas death row inmate accused of threatening a state lawmaker using a smuggled cell phone is behind an Internet posting that threatens the lawmaker and his family. State Sen. John Whitmire said he's convinced Richard Lee Tabler is behind a rambling May 29 posting on a site dedicated to death row inmates and their cases. The posting was first reported Friday by the Austin American-Statesman.

Tabler, who faces execution for the 2004 slaying of two men in Bell County, was busted last year for having a smuggled phone in his cell. He was charged with retaliation, and his mother and sister were charged with possessing contraband in a state prison. Those cases are pending.

The Web posting, under Tabler's name, states: "So many thoughts are running through my head about these indictments against my family members. Some times I wish that I could really show my hand and ask Senator Whitmire how 'Rebecca's health' is. ... John please understand that just because I'm on death row does not mean that you cannot be gotten to ... or your family."

Whitmire said his ex-wife is named Rebecca.

Prisoners do not have access to computers, and all of Tabler's incoming and outgoing mail is read except for mail pertaining to his court case, Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. The prison system's Office of the Inspector General is investigating whether Tabler was able to get a threatening letter to someone else to post, Lyons said.

The department declined to allow Tabler to be interviewed Friday, and he could not be otherwise reached for comment. A lawyer for Tabler could not be found. A court clerk official declined to release information about Tabler's lawyer over the phone.

Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wrote Thursday to the chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice and the prison department's executive director to complain about lax security with death row correspondence. He said his committee will conduct a hearing on prison mail policies.

Whitmire, who is often contacted by inmates because of his committee role, told The Associated Press he was troubled by the threatening Web posting.

"Obviously I'm concerned -- for her, me, anyone in the state of Texas," Whitmire said. "I know for a fact inmates have contacts on the streets of Texas. Their ability to carry out a threat is real."

He said his aides spotted the May posting recently while doing an online search.

"Pretty unbelievable stuff," Whitmire said. "What does it take to identify the guy as a threat and scrutinize everything he does?"

Whitmire gave Tabler his cell phone number last year after Tabler contacted Whitmire at his office and posed as an old schoolmate, Whitmire said. Tabler later identified himself as a death row inmate, and he and Whitmire held several phone conversations under the supervision of law enforcement, the lawmaker said.

Those conversations led to charges against Tabler, his mother and sister, and to a crackdown within the prison system on illegal cell phone use. Hundreds of contraband phones, chargers and phone components were seized over several months, and security was tightened for those entering and leaving the prisons.

The Web site that posted the threats is hosted by Houston-based Web-hosting company The Planet. A spokeswoman for the company, Yvonne Donaldson, said it would look into the matter.

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