AUSTIN (AP) - The same death row inmate caught making a call from a smuggled cell phone in October has sent a letter threatening the life of a Texas lawmaker, officials said.
Texas prison officials also said a different death row inmate's contraband cell phone was discovered Wednesday afternoon, hours after a prison lockdown was lifted. Prison investigators said Thursday that they received a letter this week from Richard Lee Tabler, 29, with threats against state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which oversees prison operations. "My life has never been threatened," said Whitmire in a story for Friday's online edition of the Austin American-Statesman. "I take this very seriously. I am very concerned for my family and will take the necessary precautions."
A statewide lockdown of the system began last month after Tabler allegedly made threatening calls to Whitmire and shared his illegal cell phone with at least nine of his fellow inmates. Investigators determined some 2,800 calls were made from the phone from inside the Polunsky Unit near Livingston. Tabler has been upset about the arrests of his mother and his sister in connection with an investigation into how he obtained a cell phone, said John Moriarty, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Tabler's letter also included threats against Austin American-Statesman reporter Mike Ward, who broke the story about the smuggled cell phone, Moriarty said. "Let's see you put the (expletive) senator and Mike Ward in protective custody for their (expletive) lies," states a copy of the letter shown to the newspaper. Moriarty said there is "minimal" likelihood that Tabler could carry out his death threats against Whitmire and Ward.
After receiving the letter, investigators searched Tabler's death row cell and seized a variety of items, Moriarty said. Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported Friday in their online editions that prison officials found a cell phone, a charger, a makeshift weapon and what appeared to be marijuana in the cell of a different death row inmate, just hours after a statewide lockdown of the system ended. The phone and other items, including a flat piece of metal sharpened to a point on both edges, were found hidden in a sock Wednesday in convicted murderer Mark Stroman's cell at the Polunsky Unit, said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.
The matter was turned over to Moriarty, she said. "They will be looking into how he got these items." Moriarty, however, said that task would be difficult because no SIM card was found with the telephone. Such a memory chip would give a record of calls and point to how the phone bill was being paid. "It's under investigation," said Moriarty, who noted he has a special team devoted to investigating death row cases. Moriarty said he believes the solution to the cell phone problem is to change federal law to allow state prison officials to "jam the frequencies" and thus make them inoperable.