Texas’ highest criminal appeals court stayed the execution Thursday of Houston native Will Speer, just hours before it was set to occur.

Speer, who was convicted of murder in Harris County in the early 1990s and sentenced to death in 2001 for strangling a fellow prison inmate, received a temporary reprieve from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 

The stay came in response to an application Speer’s lawyers filed earlier this month with the court. They claimed Speer received ineffective counsel during his 2001 trial, and that prosecutors withheld evidence and presented false testimony.

In a 5-4 decision, the court’s majority said Speer’s execution should be stayed “pending further order of the court.” The judges did not elaborate on their reasons for granting the stay.

Donna Coltharp, an assistant federal public defender with the Western District of Texas, said she and other lawyers representing Speer are “in a holding pattern.”

“We may not hear anything except ‘petition denied,’ or we may hear that they’re interested in some issue that they want further briefing on, or that they are going to give us relief on,” Coltharp said. “We just don’t know. We do know under statute the order gives Mr. Speer a minimum of 90 more days.”

The ruling came down shortly before his scheduled 6 p.m. execution of Speer, whose death appeared imminent after the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted Tuesday not to recommend clemency. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to convert Speer’s death sentence to life in prison. However, Abbott has allowed 66 executions to take place during his administration while commuting the sentence of one death row inmate.

Speer’s lawyers have argued the 49-year-old has become a model citizen in prison, illustrated by his prominent involvement in a religious fellowship for death row inmates. The sister of Gary Dickerson, who Speer killed in 2001 at a prison near Texarkana, also opposed the execution.

“I’ve learned a lot about Mr. Speer in the past month, and in my heart, I feel that he is not only remorseful for his actions but has been doing good works for others and has something left to offer the world,” Dickerson’s sister, Sammi Martin, wrote in a letter to the board.

Amy Fly, another lawyer representing Speer, said in a press release that Speer “will live 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,” Fly said. “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.”

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Monroe Trombly is a public safety reporter at the Houston Landing. Monroe comes to Texas from Ohio. He most recently worked at the Columbus Dispatch, where he covered breaking and trending news. Before...