Monday, January 23, 2012

Killer of Two Scheduled for Execution on Thursday

When Rodrigo Hernandez was about to be sentenced to prison in 1998 for severely beating a Grand Rapids man, he asked a judge for mercy because he had become a reformed "family man," according to the Grand Rapids Press.

"I have been living an honest life and staying out of trouble," he wrote in a letter. "I consider myself a family man. So I appreciate it if you would give me one more chance to be able to continue my life with my family, better my life and help the community."

What Hernandez failed to tell the judge is that he had committed two as-then unsolved rapes and murders: the 1991 brutal beating, rape and shooting of 77-year-old homeless woman Muriel Stoepker in Grand Rapids and the 1994 killing of a 38-year-old San Antonio woman, Susan Verstegen.

Hernandez is set to be executed Thursday for the murder ofVerstegen.  If the execution is carried out he will be the first person executed in Texas in 2012 and only the second person nationwide.

Even as his execution looms he continues with the rhetoric of innocence,“It still doesn't feel real. I did not commit this murder; I'll take that to the grave,” Hernandez said in a recent death row interview. “My grandma raised me to respect women,” reported the San Antonio Express-News.

The evidence paints a very different picture of Hernadez.  As a condition of his parole for an assault in Michigan, Hernandez had to submit a DNA sample for a local, state and national database called CODIS. When a match was found a San Antonio Police Department reopened the murder investigation of Verstegen.  He confessed and was convicted of Verstegen's murder.

Then, already on death row for Verstegen's murder, a cold case team in Kent County, MI., found his DNA matched a tiny amount saved from an investigation of the 1991 murder of Stoepker who was fatally shot in a parking garage at Grand Rapids Community College.

Hernandez has a clemency petition pending before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and an appeal before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

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