BOWIE COUNTY, Texas -- A former Telford Unit inmate convicted of killing another at the prison is scheduled for execution March 29, 2023.
Anibal Canales Jr., 58, was found guilty of strangling a 47-year-old inmate in his cell on July 11, 1997. Canales was two years into a 15-year term for aggravated sexual assault.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Canales' request for the court to review his case. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that Canales, a native of Illinois, was sentenced to death partly because of his ineffective representation at trial.
"Competent counsel would have told the jury of 'a tragic childhood rife with violence, sexual abuse, poverty, neglect and homelessness'; of Canales' kindness to his mother and sisters; and 'of a man beset by PTSD, a failing heart and the dangers of prison life' when he committed the crime for which he was sentenced to die," the filing states.
Sotomayor referenced the findings of the federal habeas proceedings, which noted Canales' troubled childhood and history of legal trouble, including the theft of an income tax check in 1983.
"That stolen check sent Canales to federal prison. Later that same year, he was convicted of theft and sexual assault and received a 15-year sentence, during which he joined the Texas Syndicate prison gang," states the opinion, which references the findings of Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Canales was paroled in 1990 from a Bexar County state prison but returned in 1993 when his parole was revoked after another sexual assault.
Canales eventually was sent to the Telford Unit in Bowie County, where he suffered a heart attack.
"When they discovered that Canales had prior sex offense convictions and had been a member of the Latin Kings, the Texas Syndicate ordered him killed," the opinion states.
Canales' cellmate, Bruce Richards, allegedly was a leader in the Texas Mafia prison gang. Richards admitted Canales to the Texas Mafia and worked an agreement with the Syndicate for his safety, according to opinion.
"Canales thus owed Richards his life. Shortly thereafter, and on Richards' instruction, Canales helped kill an inmate named Gary Dickerson, who was blackmailing the gang," the opinion states.
Citing Higginbotham's opinion, Sotomayor wrote that Richards ordered Canales to write a note exaggerating Canales' role in the murder.
"As Richards later explained, 'If (Canales) refused to do what I told him I would have sent him back to the Texas Syndicate, and he would be killed.'"
Sotomayor argued that Canales' defense failed to present such factors at trial as mitigating evidence.
"Canales' crimes were brutal, and he deserves just punishment. Under our Constitution, however, no person's crime is so terrible that he loses his right to the effective assistance of counsel. That is especially true when he faces execution. If the right to counsel means anything, it means that the State should not take someone's life when incompetent counsel failed to offer a meaningful mitigation defense," Sotomayor wrote.