BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Gov. George W. Bush on Friday spared the life of a death row inmate who once claimed to have killed 600 people, commuting Henry Lee Lucas' sentence to life in prison after doubts about his guilt in the so-called "orange socks" slaying were raised.
Bush issued the reprieve on the recommendation of the state parole board, the first time the Republican governor has commuted a death sentence since he took office more than three years ago.
Lucas, 62, was scheduled to die Tuesday by injection.
"I can only thank them for believing the truth and having guts enough for standing up for what's right," Lucas said.
The governor's decision allows no chance of freedom for the infamous one-eyed drifter once considered among the nation's most prolific serial killers.
Lucas, who recanted confessions to about 600 killings nationwide, still faces six other life sentences and 210 years in prison for nine other murders.
Lucas is guilty of other crimes for which he has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, said Bush, in Brownsville for a conference of U.S.-Mexico border state governors.
"However, I believe there is enough doubt about this particular crime that the state of Texas should not impose its ultimate penalty by executing him," the governor added.
Lucas' lone death sentence came from a San Angelo jury in 1984 for the rape and strangulation of an unidentified woman whose body, clad only in orange socks, was found on Halloween 1979 in a ditch north of Austin.
No witnesses or physical evidence linked Lucas to the crime, but he confessed four times. He now says he was lying, and various investigations have raised questions about his guilt. Work records and a cashed paycheck indicated Lucas was in Florida when the woman was killed.
"At the time it made its decision, the jury did not know and could not have known that Henry Lee Lucas had a pattern of lying and confessing to crimes that evidence later proved he did not commit," Bush said.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles this week voted 10-8, the minimum needed, to ask Bush to give Lucas a 270-day reprieve and voted, 17-1, to recommend the death sentence be commuted.
Hours after Bush reduced Lucas' sentence, a man whose frenzied knife attack left four people dead was executed by injection.
Leopoldo Narvaiz Jr. was executed for hacking to death his ex-girlfriend, Shannon Mann, 17, along with her sisters, Jennifer, 19; Martha, 15; and a brother, Ernest Jr., 11, in San Antonio.