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Texas Game Warden Killer Set to be Executed Wednesday.

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A man convicted in the 2007 shooting death of a Texas game warden in Wharton County is scheduled for execution Wednesday evening.

James Garrett Freeman, 35, shot and killed Justin Hurst, a game warden with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, following a 90-minute chase on country roads in the early morning of March 17, 2007, according to court documents. It was Hurst's 34th birthday.

Unless there is a last-minute stay, Freeman will be the second execution in Texas this year and the fourth in the United States. Eight more executions are scheduled in the state through July.

Freeman was first approached by law enforcement after he shot and killed a possum from the side of the road, according to court documents. Another game warden patrolling the area heard the shot, and when he activated his emergency lights, Freeman sped away.

Law enforcement from multiple agencies took part in the high-speed chase before Freeman ran over a set of spikes that officers had set up near a cemetery. Dashboard camera video shows he exited the car shooting at officers with a handgun, returned to his car while officers shot back, then came back out firing an assault rifle.

Hurst came out from cover to fire at Freeman and was shot and killed. Freeman was also hit by several bullets, including one that penetrated his leg, Wharton County District Attorney Ross Kurtz said.

"Justin was very loved and respected, as is his family who remains in Wharton," Kurtz said. "It was a great loss."

Freeman would be the first person to be executed from Wharton County since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. There have been other capital murder cases in the county since Freeman's case in 2008, but none have sought the death penalty, Kurtz said. The county has a population of about 41,000.

Freeman's lawyers said the unique thing about this case was Freeman's lack of a violent criminal history. He was on probation for a DWI at the time of the shooting, court documents said, but had never faced violent charges. During appeals, Freeman argued his good behavior in jail and lack of violent history indicated he would not be a future danger to society, an element that was necessary to sentence someone to death.

"The most difficult thing for people to grapple with on all sides of this case is the lack of criminal history in this fellow's background and the extraordinary violence of this event," said Patrick McCann, Freeman's lawyer for his direct appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. "It's so hard for people to look at the video of this encounter and not think that this was done by someone with a violent, vicious history."

Freeman has no pending appeals in state or federal courts. On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted not to recommend a commuted sentence, a common occurrence immediately before a scheduled execution, according to the Attorney General's Office.

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Publication:The Texas Tribune
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Jan 27, 2016
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