Chaplain may be fired over inmate letters

HOUSTON It's not known if the letters mailed by the chaplain, Richard Anderson, for death row prisoner Richard Tabler are the ones that ended up on a Web site dedicated to condemned inmates and their cases, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.

The chaplain's actions thwarted rules that require monitoring of nearly all inmate mail.

"We've yet to confirm these are the same letters ultimately posted on the Internet," Lyons said. "Regardless, it's a serious infraction and consequently he's been recommended for termination.

"You don't carry out letters for inmates. You don't carry letters out for death row inmates. You especially don't carry out letters for Richard Tabler, who already has shown a propensity for threatening people outside his prison cell."

Tabler's threatening call last year to Sen. John Whitmire, using a cell phone smuggled into the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, was the impetus for a crackdown on illegal cell phones and other contraband throughout the nation's second-largest prison system. Tabler then became the focus of an investigation after an Internet posting from him on a Web site dedicated to death row inmates and their cases again threatened Whitmire and his family.

Prisoners have no access to computers and all of Tabler's incoming and outgoing mail is read except for mail pertaining to his court case. The prison system's Office of the Inspector General has been investigating how Tabler was able to get such a letter to someone else to post.

"We developed some information that we may have had an employee involvement in carrying out communications, some letters from him that circumvented the security that was in place," Inspector General John Moriarty said Friday. "We ended up developing evidence that a chaplain carried some information out."

Anderson, 51, has worked as a chaplain at the Polunsky Unit, which includes death row, since March 2008. He could not be reached Friday. His firing, recommended Thursday, would be a matter for administrators at the prison, Lyons said.

Moriarty said at least for now, it didn't appear Anderson would face criminal charges.

"Carrying stuff outside usually is a policy violation," he said. "Bringing stuff in is a criminal violation.

"If the investigation develops that he was a known participant and knew what he was carrying out as far as threats, that would change the dynamics. At this point, we don't have that affirmative link to that case."

Moriarty said it was not immediately certain who received the letters the chaplain mailed.

"We've got some information that indicates it was the letters we're looking for, but we can't prove that," he said.

Tabler told investigators about the chaplain's role in accepting and mailing the letters and the chaplain then confirmed it, prison officials said.

"It raises questions about security as it relates to prison employees," said Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, the Texas Senate's longest-serving member and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "In this instance, a chaplain is a little alarming. If a chaplain thinks he's serving his flock by taking unauthorized letters in and out, what else would he be doing?"

Tabler, 40, was condemned for the slayings of two men in 2004. He does not have an execution date. He is set for arraignment in December on additional charges stemming from the cell phone use. The Tulare, Calif., native also has a record in that state, where he was sentenced to three years for burglary, assault an officer and escape.

His mother and sister also face arraignment next month on charges of possessing contraband in a state prison related to the cell phone use.

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