The state of Texas on Wednesday will execute a man convicted of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her seven-year-old son in 2005 after the Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case.
Stephen Barbee, 55, is slated to die by lethal injection Wednesday evening at the Texas state penitentiary in Huntsville. It’s the third time in four years that the state has planned his execution, according to the Texas Tribune.
Barbee’s attorneys had filed a last-ditch appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the execution, arguing that the state is violating his religious freedom because the state lacks a written policy on what role spiritual advisers can play in the execution chamber, according to the Associated Press.
The nation’s highest court ruled in March that the state must allow faith leaders in the execution chamber to pray and touch any prisoner who makes that request. Texas did not update their policy but said they would make their decision on a case-by-case basis and accommodate any reasonable request, AP reported. The state had already agreed to honor Barbee's request.
Several weeks ago, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Barbee’s execution until the state issued a written policy on the role of spiritual advisers. One week ago, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt’s ruling because it was overly broad, AP reported.
On Tuesday, Hoyt issued a new injunction, and the Fifth Circuit overturned it again. The Supreme Court declined to overturn the Fifth Circuit.
Barbee was convicted of murdering Lisa Underwood and her son Jayden in 2006. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave in Denton County in 2005, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Prosecutors claimed that Barbee had wanted to keep Underwood, 34, from telling his wife about her pregnancy, as he had mistakenly believed the baby was his. Later, DNA evidence determined that he was not the father of her unborn child.
Prosecutors said he suffocated Underwood and then killed Jayden the same way after the boy walked in on the attack, the newspaper reported.
Police said Barbee had confessed to the murders. He later recanted, claiming the confession was coerced, multiple media outlets reported, and alleged instead that he was framed by his business partner, Ron Dodd, according to the Texas Tribune.
Barbee said that Dodd committed the murders alone, but he helped Dodd get rid of the bodies, the Texas Tribune reported.
Dodd was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to tampering with physical evidence, admitting that he had helped Barbee bury the bodies, according to the Tribune.
The order last year to stay the execution left Underwood’s mother wondering whether she and her family would “finally receive justice,” the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“I’ve forgiven Stephen. I really have in my heart, but there’s a difference between forgiveness and justice, and my family deserves justice,” Sheila Underwood told the Star-Telegram in 2021. “My thinking was, 'He watched my family take their last breath, I will watch him take his last breath.'”
Arizona executed Murray Hooper on Wednesday morning for killing two people on Dec. 31,1980 during a home invasion in Phoenix.
Barbee is the last inmate scheduled for execution in Texas in 2022.