TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (NewsNation Now) — The U.S. government executed a man late Thursday for abducting and killing a 16-year-old girl in Texas more than two decades ago.
Orlando Hall, 49, was pronounced dead at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, after a more than five hour delay due to the appeals process, NewsNation affiliate WTWO reported. He’s the eighth inmate to be executed under President Donald Trump’s administration since capital punishment was reinstated at the federal level over the summer.
Hall was also the second African American man to be executed by lethal injection on federal death row in recent months.
A judge’s stay over concerns about the execution drug gave Hall a reprieve Thursday, but only for a few hours. After the Supreme Court overturned the stay, he was put to death just before midnight.
Hall was among five men convicted in the abduction and death of Lisa Rene in 1994. Hall’s attorneys had sought to halt the execution over concerns that he was convicted by an all-white jury.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed an amicus brief on Hall’s behalf, argued there was evidence prosecutors in his case had improperly stricken Black individuals from the jury pool based on racial motivations.
The Congressional Black Caucus asked Attorney General William Barr to stop it because the coronavirus “will make any scheduled execution a tinderbox for further outbreaks and exacerbate concerns over the possibility of miscarriage of justice,” according to a letter to Barr.
According to federal court documents, Hall was a marijuana trafficker in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who would sometimes buy drugs in the Dallas area. On Sept. 24, 1994, he met two men at a Dallas-area car wash and gave them $4,700 with the expectation they would return later with the marijuana. The two men were Rene’s brothers.
Instead, the men claimed their car and money were stolen. Hall and others figured they were lying and were able to track down the address of the brothers’ apartment in Arlington, Texas.
When Hall and three other men arrived, the brothers weren’t there. Lisa Rene was home, alone.
Court records offer a chilling account of the terror she faced.
“They’re trying to break down my door! Hurry up!” she told a 911 dispatcher. A muffled scream is heard seconds later, with a man saying, “Who you on the phone with?” The line then goes dead.
“She was studying for a test and had her textbooks on the couch when these guys came knocking on the front door,” retired Arlington detective John Stanton Sr. recalled. Police arrived within minutes of the 911 call, but the men were gone, with Rene. Stanton still winces at the near-miss of thwarting the crime in its early stages.
“It was one that I won’t ever forget,” Stanton said. “This one was particularly heinous.”
The men drove to a motel in Pine Bluff. Rene was repeatedly sexually assaulted during the drive and at the motel over the next two days.
On Sept. 26, Hall and two other men drove Rene to Byrd Lake Natural Area in Pine Bluff, her eyes covered by a mask. They led her to a grave site they had dug a day earlier. Hall placed a sheet over Rene’s head then hit her in the head with a shovel. When she ran another man and Hall took turns hitting her with the shovel before she was gagged and dragged into the grave, where she was doused in gasoline before dirt was shoveled over her.
A coroner determined that Rene was still alive when she was buried and died of asphyxiation in the grave, where she was found eight days later.
Rene’s older sister, Pearl Rene, said in a statement that she and her family “are very relieved that this is over. We have been dealing with this for 26 years and now we’re having to relive the tragic nightmare that our beloved Lisa went through.”
“The execution of Orlando Hall will never stop the suffering we continue to endure,” Pearl Rene said. “Please pray for our family as well as his.”
Hall, a changed man in prison according to his lawyers and a church volunteer who had grown close to him, was consoling his family and supporters at the end. “I’m OK,” he said in a final statement, then adding, “Take care of yourselves. Tell my kids I love them.”
Five of the first six federal executions this year involved white men; the other was Navajo. Christopher Vialva, who was Black, was put to death Sept. 24.
The Associated Press, Reuters and NewsNation affiliate WTWO contributed to this report. Reporting by Jim Salter of the AP, Sarah Lynch of Reuters and WTWO staff.