Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Texas executes the fourth of the so-called 'Texas 7'

The 22nd Execution of 2018
Nearly two decades after the brazen prison break-out and cross-state crime spree that landed him on America's Most Wanted and eventually on death row, Texas 7 prisoner Joseph Garcia was executed on December 4, 2018 night in Huntsville, according to the Houston Chronicle.
In his final words from the gurney, he offered a quick prayer.
"Dear Heavenly Father," he said, "please forgive them for they know not what they do."
He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m., 13 minutes after the lethal dose began.
In recent weeks, the 47-year-old convicted in the Christmas Eve killing of a North Texas police officer launched a slew of appeals, lawsuits, pleas for reprieve and requests for clemency. His last-minute legal moves raised questions about his initial conviction, the controversial "law of parties" and the source of the state's lethal injection supplies.
But on Friday, the parole board rebuffed the condemned man's request for clemency, and lower courts turned down appeal after appeal. By Tuesday morning, he still had a number of claims in front of appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a long-shot bid for reprieve sitting on the governor's desk.
"I am on death row because of the actions and intent of others and because I am one of the Texas Seven, case closed," he wrote the Chronicle weeks before his scheduled execution. "Is it right that I should be murdered for something that I did not do?"
To some friends and family of the slain policeman – Officer Aubrey Hawkins – the answer is clear.
"Whatever participation he had, he went along with it," said Seagoville police Sgt. Karl Bailey, a long-time friend of the Hawkins family. "The whole thing was sparked by the escape from prison, the burglaries - it was a crime spree."
Though Garcia offered no apology in his final statement, he sent out a message of remorse through his attorneys.
"I want to offer my heartfelt apology to the family of Officer Hawkins, and the workers at Oshman's in Dallas," he said. "None of this was supposed to happen. I wish it didn't."
At the time of the breakout in December 2000, the Bexar County native was locked up in a prison south of San Antonio, serving a 50-year sentence stemming from a boozy fight that ended with one man dead. Garcia was convicted of murder, but he has long maintained that it was the other man - Miguel Luna - who attacked him, and that the fatal stabbing was only in self-defense.
Behind bars, he made friends with a charismatic thief named George Rivas. First, they bonded over a "poor man's spread" of prisoner-made food. Then, they plotted an escape.
Inspired by a book, their plan took months to prepare. They picked a crew, spread rumors among the guards, surveyed the grounds and gathered supplies.
On Dec. 13, they made good on their plot. Some of the men stayed back from lunch to wax the floors in the maintenance shop, according to trial testimony. Then, as guards, civilian staff and other inmates returned from eating, the men overpowered them and took them hostage one by one.
After gaining control of maintenance, two of the gang dressed up as prison workers to sneak into the armory and take control of the guard tower. Then they fled, driving out the gate in a prison truck.
They switched out vehicles at a nearby Walmart, where one man's father had left them a truck.
Once they realized the men were missing, authorities rushed to put up a roadblock - but the escapees missed it by about four cars. Headed toward Houston, Garcia looked out the back of the vehicle and watching police erect sawhorses in the road behind them, he told the Chronicle.
After pulling off a pair of robberies to load up with cash and supplies in the Bayou City, the fleeing prisoners left and headed north.
In the Dallas suburb of Irving, the seven escapees staked out an Oshman's sporting goods store. They got a copy of the newspaper and cut out the picture of a Scholastic Award winner, then glued his image to a WANTED poster.
Bearing their handmade sign and wearing security guard uniforms, two of the men went inside just before closing on Christmas Eve, aiming to bluff their way into the surveillance room to figure out how much of the store was on camera.
Once they did that, Rivas announced that it was a robbery. They took hostages and stole guns, money and supplies. But before they left, a lone police officer showed up.
Garcia says he was still inside the building when he heard the shots, but some of the other men offered different accounts.
In all, five men fired shots. Rivas admitted he was one of them – but the state never proved that Garcia was. He still maintains that he was inside the building when the shooting started.
Afterward, they fled to Colorado, driving straight into a blizzard. They stopped at motels along the way, then holed up in a trailer park near Colorado Springs. For a month, they posed as Christian missionaries before they were finally captured. One of the men – Larry Harper – killed himself rather than be taken back to prison.
The other six were sent to death row, and three have since been executed. To the former prosecutor who handled all six of the trials, a fourth execution date comes as a welcome relief.
"It's been almost 18 years," attorney Toby Shook told the Chronicle earlier this year. "It's satisfying that the actual sentence will actually be carried out."
In his final weeks, Garcia has launched an array of appeals. In one claim, he argued that his original Bexar County killing was actually self-defense and not murder. If so, he said, it shouldn't have been used as evidence of future dangerousness – something the state is required to show to secure a death sentence.
In a separate appeal filed in Dallas County, Garcia and his legal team raised claims of earlier bad lawyering, an allegedly racist judge and the constitutionality of using the law of parties to execute someone the state never showed was a shooter or ever intended to kill anyone.
Among Garcia's other pending legal actions is a challenge to the state's lethal injection procedures in light of recent reporting about the alleged source of the drugs. In recent days, he'd also tried lobbing a lawsuit at the parole board, arguing the seven-member panel had too many former law enforcement members to be representative of the general public.
But as his lawyers fought for his life, Garcia spent his final weeks coming to terms with his own regrets and trying to live "day-by-day" till the end. He prayed, he paced in his cell and, during a death row interview, he expressed remorse for the now-grown man left without a father 18 years ago.
"Man, I don't even know his name," he said. "That's a shame."
Choking up, he paused.
"I don't think there's enough words in the world to say to him what he needs to hear."
He was the 12th Texas prisoner executed this year. Another death date is scheduled for next week.
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