Will Speer, cen­ter, seat­ed, at his bap­tism in 2021.

On October 26, 2023, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) granted a stay of execution for William Speer, who was set to be executed the same evening for the killing of another prisoner 26 years ago. Mr. Speer has been scheduled to die by lethal injection, but his attorneys asked the TCCA to pause his execution over allegations that prosecutors failed to disclose evidence at trial, knowingly presented false testimony, and that his trial lawyers provided inadequate representation by failing to present mitigating evidence of severe childhood trauma and abuse. In a two-page decision, TCCA paused Mr. Speer’s execution pending further order of the Court. According to attorneys for Mr. Speer, his stay of execution cannot be appealed to the federal court system because it is a state law issue.

Mr. Speer is serving a life sentence for a fatal shooting he committed at age 16 and has since been sentenced to death for the 1997 strangling death of Gary Dickerson in Barry B. Telford Prison in New Boston, Texas. Mr. Speer killed Mr. Dickerson to join the Texas Mafia prison gang, after the gang falsely concluded that Mr. Dickerson had told authorities of their efforts to smuggle tobacco into the prison. At trial, Mr. Dickerson’s sister, Sammie Martin, told jurors about her mother’s devastation from her son’s death. Since then, Ms. Martin has asked for Mr. Speer’s life to be spared. In federal court filings, Ms. Martin wrote: “In my heart, I feel that [Mr. Speer] is not only remorseful for his actions but has been doing good works for others and has something left to offer the world.” The State of Texas argued several times in court that it sought Mr. Speer’s execution date in the interest of the victims, but never contacted Mr. Martin. Ms. Martin first learned of Mr. Speer’s scheduled execution from his defense counsel in September 2023. As reported by Mr. Speer’s attorneys, the State said it would continue to pursue the execution date despite Ms. Martin’s opposition.

During his time on death row, Mr. Speer dedicated himself to the study of Christianity, and has since become a prominent prison minister. In 2022, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice began a “Faith Based Program” for men on death row. The TDCJ selected Mr. Speer to participate in this program following a rigorous application process. While in this program, Mr. Speer participated in upwards of 30 hours of study and community discussion surrounding religion, repentance, and responsibility. Since graduating from the program with honors, Mr. Speer has taken on the inaugural role of Prisoner Coordinator for the program, where he mentors and ministers to other men other death row, as well as teaches classes and mitigates conflict. Outlined in his clemency application, which the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole unanimously denied on October 24, 2023, Mr. Speer talks of his continued desire to minister to those around him. Mr. Speer, in his role as Field Minister, hopes “to help others by sharing his story of hardship, sin, repentance, and peacemaking.” In a video submitted with his clemency application, Mr. Speer told the board that “[he is] so aware of the things that [he has] done. [He is] so aware of the pain and the hurt that [he has] caused. [He] could just say that [he is] sorry.”

Fellow death row prisoners have confirmed the positive influence Mr. Speer has had on them. David Renteria, who is scheduled to be executed in November 2023, wrote that Mr. Speer’s “willingness to lay himself bare before others [has] served as inspiration for many in our community, and made a difference in how we as a group relate to one another as part of creation.” For Mr. Renteria, testimony from Mr. Speer “has caused many [on death row] to look deeper when it comes to repenting of our own broken paths.” 

Following the TCCA’s announcement of a stay of execution, Amy Flynn, an attorney for Mr. Speer said in a statement that his defense team is “relieved that Will Speer will live to see another day so he can continue to spread his message of hope and healing in Texas prisons… Will’s life of ministry, and his efforts to offer some measure of peace to his victims’ families, are an inspiration. We are grateful for the thousands of people, including faith leaders and his victims’ survivors, who told the State of Texas that Will’s life was worth saving.”