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A murderer turned prison ‘preacher’ is set to be executed next week despite calls for clemency from the victim’s family.

US inmate William Speer will be executed in Texas on October 26 after spending two decades on death row over the 1997 murder of a fellow prisoner.

At the time, Mr Speer was already serving a life sentence over the murder of another man in 1991 when he was just 16.

Before his time behind bars, Mr Speer grew up in Houston, Texas, where he was bullied and experienced learning disabilities growing up.

He was also allegedly sexually abused by a teenage acquaintance and physically abused as a child by his father and stepfather – who, according to Austin Chronicle, would go on to shoot his mother.

“I remember my dad beating my mum,” Mr Speer told the publication. “I remember him throwing her down stairs. I really feared my father because of how violent he was and how he treated her. And that treatment spilt over into her relationship with [my stepfather].”

At 16, Mr Speer murdered Jerry Collins, a father of a friend, who demanded stolen money be returned to him, according to The Forgiveness Foundation.

He was later tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison.

Once there, the physical abuse allegedly continued, with Mr Speer involved in an attack in which part of his ear was bitten off.

In 1997, he killed for a second time – this time he murdered fellow inmate Gary “Dirty” Dickerson to reportedly “secure protection from a gang”, according to Texas Defender Service.

Turning to a life of God

In 2021, Mr Speer was selected to join the Texas Department of Criminal Justice first Faith-Based Program.

The program, which is only available to men with clean disciplinary records, involves 20 to 30 hours weekly of study and community discussion to help inmates “reach a point in their lives where they are truly repentant for their actions, seek forgiveness, and find inner peace with God.”

“I was looking around my cell and really coming to the realisation of my poor choices and poor decisions and that I don’t have the answer,” Mr Speer told the Austin Chronicle. “And, because of that, I cried out to God.”

He was later baptised in a blue plastic tub in the prison rec yard on Father’s Day in the US in 2022.

An online petition calling for clemency states Mr Speer’s “new-found relationship with God and the tools he learned in the program have enabled Will to heal from the trauma, neglect, and abuse he endured throughout his childhood and to be of service to prison staff and incarcerated people alike.”

After graduating from the program with honours in June, he was selected as the first Inmate Coordinator for the Death Row Faith Based Program.

Since then, Mr Speer has spent his days ministering the participants in the Faith-Based Program and delivering inspirational addresses over the prison’s radio station.

Calls for clemency

Over 3,000 people have signed the online petition calling for Mr Speer’s execution to be stopped.

Mr Dickerson’s sister has also requested the death sentence be downgraded to life imprisonment where “hopefully” Mr Speers “can continue to help others and make amends for his past crimes”.

“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,” said Sammie Gail Martin, as per the Texas Defender Service.

If granted clemency, Mr Speer said he aims to devote the rest of his life to being a Field Minister.

“I want to have that opportunity to give what I have been given, that’s what I ask for,” he told the Texas Defender Service.

Texas’ death penalty

If the execution goes ahead, Mr Speers will join six other people who have been put to death in Texas in 2023 alone.

Earlier this month, on On World Day Against the Death Penalty, 48-year-old Jedidiah Murphy, was executed by lethal injection over the 2000 fatal shooting of an 80-year-old woman who was killed during a carjacking.

Mr Murphy’s lawyers had earlier requested to postpone his execution due to issues with the drugs used and DNA testing of evidence.

Before his death, Mr Murphy addressed the victim’s family in his final statement.

“To the family of the victim, I sincerely apologise for all of it,” he said.

“I hope this helps, if possible, give you closure.”

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By Rahul

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