National attention was brought to this problem after a situation involving death row inmate Richard Lee Tabler, who along with East Newton High School graduate Timothy Payne, was responsible for the murders of four people connected to a Killeen, Texas, strip club. Payne was sentenced to life in prison:
In 2008, Richard Tabler, a death row inmate in Texas, called State Senator John Whitmire directly on his cellphone. Mr. Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, is chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee.
“He wanted to talk about conditions on death row,” Mr. Whitmire said. “In my mind, I thought I was talking to a concerned guard. I said, ‘Where are you?’ And he said: ‘I’m on death row. I’m an inmate. I’m on a cellphone I bought for $2,100.’ ”
After several more calls from the inmate, Mr. Whitmire told law enforcement officials about the contraband phone, which they confiscated. They found that it had been used by nine other death row inmates for a total of 2,800 minutes. Officials locked down the entire state system, conducted a search for other cellphones and found about 400, Mr. Whitmire said.