A Texas prisoner who killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend and her 7-year-old son more than 17 years ago was executed Wednesday after courts rejected his appeals over claims of violation of religious freedom and indifference to his medical needs.

Stephen Barbee, 55, was given a lethal injection at Huntsville Correctional Facility. He was pronounced dead at 7:35 p.m. He was convicted of the d*aths of 34-year-old Lisa Underwood and her son Jayden in February 2005. Both suffocated in their home in Fort Worth. They were later found buried in a shallow grave in nearby Denton County.

Prosecutors said Barbee killed his ex-girlfriend and her son because he didn’t want his wife to know that Underwood was seven months pregnant, possibly with him. DNA evidence later revealed that Barbee was not the father. Underwood owned a bagel shop in Fort Worth that was named after her son. She and her son went missing after missing a baby shower.

Barbee confessed to police that he killed Underwood and her son, but later recanted. Barbee said the confession was coerced. He has since maintained his innocence, claiming he was framed by his business partner.

His trial, including sentencing, lasted less than three days in February 2006.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by Barbee’s lawyers to stay the ex*cution.

FILE – This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is of Stephen Barbee, a d*ath row inmate in Texas. Barbee was executed by lethal injection on November 16, 2022.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice/AP

Barbee’s attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the ex*cution, arguing that his religious rights were violated because the state prison system, following a Supreme Court ruling on what spiritual advisors can do that while in the ex*cution chamber, he did not create a written policy on the matter.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must consider the wishes of d*ath row inmates who want their religious leaders pray and touch them during ex*cution. Texas prison officials have not formally updated their policy, but have said they will consider prisoner petitions on a case-by-case basis and will comply with most reasonable requests.

Earlier this month, US District Judge Kenneth Hoyt in Houston issued a preliminary injunction saying the state could only execute Barbee after publishing a clear spiritual counseling policy that protects the religious rights of inmates. Last week, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Hoyt’s injunction, saying it was too broad. The appeals court stated that the Supreme Court does not require, but only recommends, states to create a written policy on this issue.

On Tuesday, Hoyt issued a new injunction to protect Barbee’s rights. The Fifth Circuit on Wednesday also rescinded that order.

The Texas Attorney General’s office said in an earlier court filing that Barbee’s claims are moot because state prison officials allow his spiritual adviser to touch him and pray aloud during his ex*cution.

Also on Tuesday, Hoyt rejected a separate request from Barbee’s attorneys for a stay of ex*cution, saying a prisoner’s right to avoid cruel and unusual punishment would be violated. His lawyers say Barbee has physical limitations that restrict the movement of his arms and shoulders, and he would have experienced “unbearable pain and suffering” if he had been executed in the normal manner with his arms outstretched on a wheelchair so that drips could be placed to administer the lethal injection.

In a lawsuit earlier this month, lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s Office assured Hoyt that corrections officers would adapt to Barbee and allow him to stay bent at the arms, and find another place to put IVs if needed.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously refused to commute Barbee’s d*ath sentence to a lesser sentence or grant a four-month postponement.

Barbee received a lethal injection the same day Arizona executed Murray Hooper for killing two people during a home robbery in Phoenix on New Year’s Eve 1980. Hooper was given a lethal injection Wednesday morning.

Executions are taking place despite declining support for the d*ath penalty in all political parties in recent years. About 6 in 10 Americans favor the d*ath penalty, according to the General Social Survey, a major trend study conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. While a majority still supports the d*ath penalty, the percentage has steadily declined since the 1990s, when almost three-quarters were in favour.

Barbee was the fifth prisoner sentenced to d*ath in Texas this year. He was the last inmate to be executed this year in the state.

So far, 15 people, including Barbee, have been executed across the US in 2022, all by lethal injection. This year’s total number of ex*cutions in the US is already higher than last year’s low in more than three decades of 11.

Two more US ex*cutions are scheduled for Thursday – one in Alabama and one in Oklahoma.

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