texas execution
This image shows the Texas death chamber in Huntsville, Texas, June 22, 2000. Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

Robert Jennings, 61, was executed Wednesday in the state execution chamber in Huntsville, Texas, for killing a Houston police officer more than 30 years ago.

Jennings became the first inmate put to death in 2019 in the country after he was pronounced dead at 6:33 p.m. local time (7:33 p.m. EST), 18 minutes after being administered a lethal dose of pentobarbital.

In his final statement, Jennings said, “To my friends and family, it was a nice journey. To the family of the police officer, I hope y’all find peace. Be well and be safe and try to enjoy life’s moments, because we never get those back.”

He was convicted of killing a Houston police officer in 1988. After being on parole for two months, Jennings, a twice convicted robber, had gone on a crime spree.

In July 1988, Officer Elston Morris Howard was in the middle of arresting a store clerk at a book store for illegally operating a pornographic video arcade when Jennings came to the store with the intention of robbing it. It may be noted that he had robbed the same book store 12 days prior. Howard tried to stop the robbery but before he could do anything, Jennings shot him twice in the head. According to the clerk’s statement, the shooting was so quick, the officer didn’t even have a chance to reach his gun. When he staggered and fell to the floor, Jennings shot him twice more.

Jennings was arrested a couple of hours later when he went to a hospital in Houston to treat a gunshot wound in his hand. His accomplice had shot him after he found out he shot a police officer. The accomplice was sentenced to 55 years in prison while Jennings was sentenced to death after their first trial in 1989.

After his arrest, Jennings confessed to having killed the officer and said he was “remorseful for what happened” and would “face whatever punishment (he had) coming.”

One of Jennings’ current appellate attorneys, Edward Mallet, said Jennings’ trial attorneys failed to present sufficient evidence of his remorse as well as his history of brain damage, being abused as a child and drug addiction. He also said, “The trial attorneys also failed to provide an instruction to jurors that would have allowed them to give sufficient weight to these aspects of Jennings’ life when they deliberated.”

He was offered an execution stay in 2016. However, his requests to delay the execution were rejected by the high court and the lower appeals courts and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles turned down the request to shorten the sentence.

Jennings’s attorneys then approached the Supreme Court urging it to delay his execution, which too was turned down, hours before his execution on Wednesday.

Michael Agee, officer Howard’s nephew and a current officer with the Houston Police department was present in the execution chamber as Jennings died. He said, “Justice has been rendered and my family can finally have the closure we deserve.”