Robert Nelson Drew (Texas)  Case Summary Case Chart

Allegation

On August 22, 1994, the State of Texas, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Robert Nelson Drew. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Drew’s right to a fair and impartial trial. The unfair trial resulted in Drew’s execution.

Crime

On February 21, 1983, Jeffrey Mays was stabbed to death. He had been traveling with a friend and three hitchhikers they had picked up. Two of the hitchhikers, Robert Drew and Ernest Puralewski, were arrested, charged, and convicted of capital murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

Robert Drew was tried and convicted largely on the testimony of one man, Bee Landrum, who claimed to be an eyewitness to the murder. Landrum’s testimony was extremely shocking, powerful, and graphic. He claimed he could see all the people at the crime scene and that he saw Drew pull the victim’s head back and slash his throat. He even re-enacted the killing for the jury. A tape-recorded interview with Landrum, made several hours after the murder in which he admitted that he had not seen the killing, was not offered into evidence at trial. Drew’s co-defendant, Ernest Puralewski, who was awaiting his own trial for capital murder, refused to testify at Drew’s trial. Drew was sentenced to death.

Appeals

In March 1984 Drew filed a motion for a new trial based on Puralewski’s confession and affidavit exonerating Drew. The motion was denied without opinion, a decision affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. According to the court, the motion, filed 101 days after sentencing, was 71 days too late and thus no court in Texas could hear the motion or grant relief. A petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed in state court based on new evidence of Drew’s innocence, including evidence that had been suppressed by the state. It was denied. Drew filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court on June 14, 1988. This court denied relief, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Drew’s execution was stayed November 25, 1992 by a timely filing of a writ of certiorari. The U.S. Supreme Court denied review on June 28, 1993. Drew had another execution date for October 14, 1993, which was set aside by a new habeas application in state court. It went on to the Court of Criminal Appeals and was denied in an unpublished order, September 30, 1993. Drew filed a second petition for habeas challenging the bias of the state trial judge. Three days later the federal district court dismissed that petition. The Fifth Circuit affirmed on October 11, 1993. Drew filed a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied review. He received a temporary injunction on October 13, 1993, just six hours before his execution, to resolve pending issues. Ultimately, all relief was denied, and he was executed.

Conclusion

Robert Nelson Drew was executed despite evidence that he did not receive a fair trial. Because of a strictly imposed time limit, Texas courts refused to grant Drew a new trial despite substantial evidence of his innocence that only became available after the trial. The state withheld evidence of Drew’s innocence and discredited their sole eyewitness, whose testimony was essential in securing Drew’s conviction. The withholding of evidence rendered Drew’s trial unfair.

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