Texas executed John Hummel on June 30, 2021, an honorably discharged former Marine with service-related trauma whose trial lawyer now works for the prosecutor who was trying to execute him.

Hummel had come within two days of execution in March 2020, when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued a stay because of health concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2021, Hummel’s lawyer, Michael Mowla, indicated that no appeals would be filed to try to halt the execution.

Hummel was only the second person put to death by any state in 2021 — both by Texas. Plans for his execution sparked controversy because of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s failure to allow media witnesses at the May 19 execution of Quintin Jones and the department’s lack of transparency in addressing that failure.

Hummel was a former Marine who experienced trauma as a result of his service. At the sentencing phase of his trial, a psychologist testified that Hummel likely had several personality disorders, but his attorney, Larry Moore, presented no evidence about Hummel’s military service or its impact on his mental health and failed to rebut evidence presented by prosecution witnesses who denigrated Hummel’s time in the service.

In a June 30 op-ed in Medium, retired U.S. Navy Captain Art Cody, the Director of Criminal Programs at the Veteran Advocacy Project, noted that two Marines — Hummel and Nevada death-row prisoner Zane Floyd — face execution this summer. “What we ask of our servicemen often gives rise to their mental illness which, when not properly treated, lands them on our death rows.”

Too often, Cody, said, these veterans reach death row because of failures by the governments they served. “[M]ental health resources to veterans have been and continue to be lacking,” Cody said. Counsel appointed to represent veterans in death penalty trials before largely non-veteran juries and judges often fail to adequately explain the veterans’ service to the country and their service-related impairments. “We as a nation should … reexamine our treatment of veterans and ensure that they are given the best in both mental health treatment and criminal representation,” Cody said. “We may wish to consider whether mentally ill veterans should be eligible for the death penalty at all.”

The Alleged Conflict of Interest

Moore is now a prosecutor in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, which prosecuted Hummel, filed the motions to set his execution dates, and continued to seek his execution. In earlier appeals, Mowla argued that this presented a conflict of interest that should have disqualified Tarrant County prosecutors from involvement in the case.

While the DA’s office argued that Moore has not been directly involved in its work on Hummel’s case, Mowla wrote, “[c]onsciously or not, Larry Moore and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office stand to benefit by hastening Hum­mel’s execution” because the appeals process has drawn attention to Moore’s ineffectiveness in Hummel’s case.

The Controversy Over Media Witnesses

The ACLU of Texas asked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to delay Hummel’s execution to ensure that the prison does not repeat the mistakes made during Jones’ execution when, for the first time in the 571 executions performed in Texas since 1976, media witnesses were not brought into the viewing room. “We are writing to express our deep concern regarding TDCJ’s plan to move forward with future executions, despite the lack of public accountability for the enormous mistakes” made during Jones’ execution, the organization wrote in a letter to TDCJ executive director Bryan Collier.

The letter added that a 30-day stay “would give TDCJ additional time to ensure adequate measures are in place to prevent critical errors at Mr. Hummel’s execution, provide the public with an account of the reasons for the errors at Mr. Jones’s execution, and make public the plan to prevent such errors going forward.”

Jeremy Desel, a spokesperson for TDCJ, told Newsweek that the prison system had investigated the exclusion of media witnesses. TDCJ’s failure, he said, was the result of “a culmination of factors” and was “preventable and inexcusable.”

Desel said that several members of the execution team had retired or changed roles in the ten months between Texas’ last execution of 2020 and Jones’ execution in 2021. TDCJ blamed the role changes, as well as a new procedure allowing spiritual advisors to accompany prisoners into the execution chamber, writing, “a lack of institutional knowledge within the administrative team, a recently revised execution procedure, and insufficient oversight all contributed to the incident.” TDCJ said that its internal investigation showed that “extensive training” had been conducted in preparation for Jones’ execution, but “it became clear during the investigation that specific responsibilities for individuals participating in the process were not clearly defined.”

Savannah Kumar, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, told Newsweek that TDCJ refused to produce records related to failures during the Jones execution and that the ACLU was not satisfied with TDCJ’s lack of transparency regarding its investigation. “We really need to see details about not only these errors, but also how these errors will be fixed,” she said. TDCJ self-interested rendition of the incident “provides Texans with absolutely no reassurance about the execution process, and TDCJ’s ability to ensure that even the most basic standards with regard to communication, oversight and training are actually being followed, especially when using the state’s power to strip a person’s life entirely away from them,” she said.


Brent Bingamon, The Stays Stop Here? After a qui­et COVID sea­son, Texas’ death row machine rum­bles back to life, Austin Chronicle, June 25, 2021; Juan Lozano, COVID-19 stay: Execution halt­ed for man who killed fam­i­ly, Associated Press, March 16, 2020; Brent Bingamon, Defense to D.A. – A Conflict of Interest?, Austin Chronicle, March 13, 2020; Khaleda Rahman, Texas urged to stop exe­cu­tions after inmate put to death with­out media wit­ness­es, Newsweek, June 28, 2021; Captain Art Cody, U.S. Navy (Retired), Mentally Ill Veterans Should Not Be Executed, Medium, June 302021.