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Execution Stayed for Prisoner Who Leads Death Row Ministry

By Liz Lykins
will speer execution
On Thursday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the execution of Will Speer, a death row prisoner who helps lead a ministry in a maximum security state prison. (Photo: Texas Dept. of Corrections)

Every morning, Will Speer leads prayer and worship in his state prison. He is the first death row prisoner to help lead a death row ministry in Texas’s Allan B. Polunsky Unit.

Speer was scheduled to be executed Thursday — but less than five hours before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed his death pending further review of his case, Christianity Today (CT) reportado.

While on Tuesday, the state denied his application for clemency, Speer presented several legal claims to dispute his execution. He alleges that his counsel did not provide mitigating evidence at previous trials.

Speer, 49, is known for ministering to his inmates, sometimes delivering a sermon through prison radio, or leading worship, pastor Dana Moore told CT. Moore has spent years ministering to those on death row in the Polunsky Unit.

Two years ago, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice began an 18-month faith-based program for 28 death row inmates who passed an application process. The program was known as the “God Pod,” and consisted of classes, worship, and rare fellowship for prisoners who normally are in solitary confinement, CT reported.

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prison speer
Texas Department of Criminal Justice runs the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, a maximum security facility in Livingston, Texas. (Photo via Facebook)

Speer graduated from the God Pod program this year, becoming the first “inmate coordinator” and enabling him to teach classes and mentor other inmates, despite being on death row.

When Speer was 16, he fatally shot a friend’s father, Jerry Collins, in Houston and was sentenced to life in prison as an adult. A decade later in 2001, he received another conviction after murdering a fellow prisoner, Gary Dickerson. His attorneys said the murder was to get gang protection in prison—and Speer was sentenced to death.

Speer’s attorneys had asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stop his execution over allegations that prosecutors at the 2001 trial failed to disclose evidence and presented false testimony, according to AP News. They also alleged the prosecutors failed to share mitigating information about that Speer’s troubled childhood — Speer was physically and sexually abused as a child. The 2001 prosecutors have denied the allegations against them.

Speer’s lawyers say he transformed while in prison, expressed regret for his actions, and was baptized while imprisoned in 2022.

“I am so aware of the things that I’ve done. I’m so aware of the pain and the hurt that I’ve caused. I could just say that I’m sorry,” he said in a video, which was part of an earlier clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

AP News reported that Speer’s attorneys had also asked to stop his execution over claims the state’s supply of pentobarbital, the drug used in executions, was exposed to extreme heat during an August fire at a state prison and was made unsafe.

Religious leaders and relatives of victims petition to spare Speer

Family members of Speer’s victims and religious leader petitioned to authorities to spare Speer’s life.

Sammie Martin, who is victim Dickerson’s only living sibling, said she did not want Speer to be executed.

“I have spent much time reflecting on what justice my brother and family deserve,” Martin wrote in a letra she submitted to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. “I feel that (Speer) is not only remorseful for his actions but has been doing good works for others and has something left to offer the world.”

In the letter, she requested that he instead be sentenced to life in prison where he “hopefully he can continue to help others and make amends for his past crimes.”

J.C. Collins, the son of victim Jerry Collins, told the estandarte bautista, “I don’t want to see him die.”

Collins told the publication that he had wanted Speer to be executed for more than 30 years. However, he had a change of heart growing out of a personal health crisis.

“As much as I thought I wanted for him to be executed, it’s hard to sit here and say that’s what I want,” he said.

Collins was in a “self-imposed prison” of anger toward Speer until a cancer diagnosis last year pushed him to his knees in prayer. There, he found the grace to forgive Speer and let go of bitterness. “I had to forgive. It was the only way I could move on—the only way I could grow as a husband and a father,” he said.

A dozen of religious leaders from around the country also asked that Speer be spared. They wrote a letra to the parole board and Gov. Greg Abbott, saying that Speer’s religious work with other prisoners “does not excuse his actions, but it gives us a fuller picture of who Will is as a human, Christian, leader, and teacher.”

“Christianity teaches that we are not defined only by our actions but rather by being made in God’s image and, for Christians, being sons and daughters of God. This means all life is sacred, from our beginning through our natural death. We ask that you honor this Christian culture of life and grant clemency to Will Speer,” the letter continued.

Prior to the execution stay, Speer’s attorney said that if Speer was allowed to spend the rest of his natural life in prison, he would join the Texas field ministry program, according to CT. The program enables its incarcerated graduates to become de facto prison chaplains.

“I pray God will continue to use me. But the fact is that God already has used me,” Speer told the estandarte bautista. “If God doesn’t do another thing for me, he’s already done enough.”

Freelance journalist Liz Lykins escribe for WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Ministry Watch, and other publications.

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6 Respuestas

  1. Speer seems to be sincere. He has taken responsibility for his actions. He’s not asking for freedom. I suppose there’s always more to the story, but…If Texas is as Pro-Life as they claim to be, they should commute his sentence to life without parole (or whatever the legal option is).

    1. what does killing babies have to do with executing murderers?? god’s word commands that justice requires murderers to be executed: genesis 9:6. the command does not state that there are no executions for those who supposedly turned around. the text even provides the reason why we are to do this.

      1. The Early Church was pro-life across the board. “One who has the power of the sword” or one “sitting in judgement on anyone’s life” meaning capital punishment, was to be excluded from being a catechumen. The Early Church believed Micah 4:1-4 and Isaiah 2:2-4 were fulfilled in Christ. When the woman caught in adultery was brought before Him, He spared her life. It was “lawful” to impose capital punishment, but He said no. There is no place in His words where he clearly endorses or tacitly approves of capital punishment. If you wish to live in a pre-Gospel Noahic world where blood is shed freely in the name of God, you have no need of Christ. On the practical side, family members and I have worked at Detention Facilities, so I know what goes on there. I know some people must be incarcerated for the rest of their lives. I suggest you read “The Early Church on Killing” by Ronald Sider.

  2. Wow! The glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in real time! I am in awe of God’s love and forgiveness, mercy and power, grace and peace! He is alive! Thank you for sharing this story.

  3. As a Texan, and someone who has seen predators use the prison ministry avenue to hide who they truly are….I am skeptical. I would want to hear from those who evaluate for character disorders and those who are skilled in recognizing the wolves among the sheep. Lots of people who were abused as a child are choosing not to be abusive/murderous.

  4. Definitely a testimony to the power of the gospel just like the Carla Faye Tucker story. we see that when humans are at the end of their rope, Jesus is there. he transforms people. This is the scandal of the cross, that a person has done terrible deeds, could be forgiven by God, because of what Christ has done, if there is true repentance.

    But the other side of the story is also touching. That the family members found freedom and peace when they forgave.

    Lord, give Strength to everyone who is involved in this case, and his lives have been touched by it.

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “The Atlas Factor: Shifting Leadership Onto the Shoulders of Jesus” by Lance Ford.