Austin Reporter Tells How Death Row Cell Phone Story Evolved


Reporter Mike Ward of the Austin American-Statesman is refusing a medal given by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice for his work in the two-week investigation into how death row convict Richard Tabler obtained a cell phone. “I was just doing my job,” Ward says.

Ward said the story began when an anonymous man called the newspaper with complaints about how Tabler and another death row inmate were being treated. He told an editor he was calling from death row. State Senate Criminal Justice Committee chairman John Whitmire said he had received a similar call from someone claiming to be an inmate. On a subsequent call, the caller identified himself as Tabler, asked for help with his appeal and told the senator that he knew the names of Whitmire’s daughters, their ages and where they lived. At one point, Ward asked Tabler about a shakedown in his cell several days earlier, and how the searchers had missed getting the phone. He said he had “sold” it (traded it, presumably) to another inmate. It was just a random shakedown, he said, and everyone had been eating peanut butter sandwiches ever since – a prison staple during such shakedowns.


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