Texas executed Barney Fuller, Jr. last night, ending a nearly six-month hiatus without executions for the state that has killed more people than any other.
Fuller, who was convicted of murdering two of his neighbors in 2003, was given a lethal injection of the drug pentobarbital and pronounced dead at 7:01 PM on Wednesday. He declined to make a final statement and didn't make eye contact with witnesses in the execution chamber, The Associated Press reported.
Unusually, Fuller voluntarily dropped all of his appeals and asked that his execution go forward. “I do not want to go on living in this hellhole,” he wrote to his attorney, Jason Cassel.
Before his appeals were dropped, Fuller had a mental evaluation and was found competent to make the decision. In a hearing with a federal judge in June, Fuller explained that he was "ready to move on," and he was allowed to volunteer for execution.
Cassel explained to Fuller that if he kept fighting his conviction and appealed, there was a chance that the death penalty could be declared unconstitutional over the next few years. But Fuller didn't care.
"It's been pretty surreal," Cassel told me. "It's a sad process all the way around."
Part of part of Fuller's decision might be due to the conditions inmates live in on Texas death row, where they are kept in near-solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. "I definitely think that contributed," Cassel said.
Fuller shot and killed his neighbors Nathan and Annette Copeland in May 2003 after an escalating argument over his habit of firing guns. He also shot their 14-year-old son, who survived. He refused to attend his own murder trial except the day he was sentenced to death.
The last execution in Texas was of death row inmate Pablo Vasquez on April 6. Since then, execution after execution has been postponed or stayed by the courts. The six-month gap was the longest between executions in the state since 2008.
And it isn't just Texas that's seen a relative drop-off in executions: Fuller’s execution was only the 16th to take place in the country this year. That's the result of fewer death sentences and difficulties in some states securing execution drugs. At this rate, 2016 is likely to have the fewest executions in the U.S. since 1991.
As the sun set in Huntsville, where all executions in Texas took place, a small group of activists protested outside the prison. "We wanted to make sure he wasn't alone," said Pat Hartwell, a longtime anti-death penalty activist. "It's still sad that Texas is needlessly killing someone." She said that usually inmates who drop their case are found to have some kind of mental illness.
Two daughters of Fuller's victims attended his execution and marked it with a grim aside. When Fuller committed his murders, a 911 dispatcher heard him saying "party's over, bitch" before shooting Annette Copeland. When one of Copeland's daughters walked out of the execution room, she said, "party's over, bastard," the AP reported.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.