November 6, 2019 / 12:03 PM / 14 days ago

Texas executes white supremacist convicted of strangling woman

(Reuters) - The state of Texas on Wednesday executed a man convicted of murder for the 2002 strangulation of a woman he feared might divulge to police the location of a drug den where he and other members of his white supremacist gang held meetings.

Justen Hall appears in an undated prison photo in Polunsky, Texas released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice November 5, 2019. Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS

Justen Hall, 38, was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 6:32 p.m. CST at the state execution chamber in Huntsville, according to a statement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 2005 for the slaying of 29-year-old Melanie Billhartz three years earlier.

According to prosecutors, Ted Murgatroyd, a recruit to Hall’s gang, got into a fight with Billhartz that day in her truck on the way to a convenience store in El Paso County.

When the pair returned to the drug house where gang members were gathered, Hall decided to kill Billhartz to keep her from reporting the fight or the meeting place to police, according to court documents in the case.

Hall left the drug house with Billhartz in her truck and returned five hours later with her body in the back of the vehicle. He then ordered Murgatroyd to get a shovel and machete and accompany him on a drive to New Mexico, where they buried the victim’s body, court records said.

A month later, Hall confessed to police after they pulled him over while he was driving Billhartz’s truck. Police later recovered Billhartz’s remains, and an autopsy determined she had been strangled with an electrical cord, according to court records.

The October 2002 slaying occurred, according to local new media accounts, while Hall was free on bond following his arrest in connection with the fatal shooting of a transgender woman that was being investigated as a hate crime.

Two years after his conviction, Hall filed an appeal challenging the DNA evidence against him. But in 2016, he withdrew the DNA appeal and asked for an execution date to be set.

“I have done this because I believe it’s time for justice to be served, and to give the victim’s family closure,” he wrote to the district attorney, according to court documents.

In a final statement, as quoted by the Criminal Justice Department before he was put to death, Hall apologized for the “pain and suffering” he had caused the families of both victims, adding, “I’m going to miss you all. I’m ready.”

Hall became the 19th inmate in the United States and the eighth in Texas executed this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Texas has executed more prisoners than any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

On Monday night, South Dakota executed a man convicted of fatally stabbing a former doughnut shop co-worker during a 1992 burglary.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler

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