Less than an hour after the courts denied his final appeal, Abel Revill Ochoa, a Texas man who killed five people became the state’s second prisoner in 2020 executed, reported the Houston Chronicle.
With his last words, Ochoa thanked Jesus for his salvation and apologized to his victims’ families.
“I would like to thank God, my dad, my Lord Jesus savior for saving me and changing my life,” he said, strapped to the Huntsville gurney. “I want to apologize to my in-laws for causing all this emotional pain. I love y’all and consider y’all my sister I never had. I want to thank you for forgiving me.”
He died at 6:48 p.m., 18 years after the crime that landed him on death row.
When police initially arrested him years earlier, Ochoa said he couldn’t handle the stress and had simply gotten tired of his life. So he’d killed his family.
The then-30-year-old Dallas man cooperated with police from the start, and confessed to the five murders, ultimately blaming his violent outburst on the drugs he’d smoked less than half an hour earlier.
“My body started wanting more crack,” he told police, according to news reports at the time. “I knew if I asked my wife for more money, she wouldn’t let me have it. I knew she’d argue with me about the money, just like we had in the past.”
A jury found him guilty in just 10 minutes, and in 2003 sentenced him to death. Many of his later appeals centered on claims he didn’t have good enough legal representation earlier in the case, but in the final days before his Thursday execution he raised claims about parole board procedures and the prison’s reluctance to let him film a clemency plea.
Born in Mexico, Ochoa was raised by a father who beat him with sticks and branches but, he later told the court, “not a lot.”
In the early 1990s, Ochoa married his wife Cecilia and settled in a home in South Dallas, according to Associated Press reports. It was a volatile relationship, with occasional separations. Then sometime around 2000 Ochoa became addicted to drugs, financing a crack habit with an illegal loan scheme, according to court records.
One Sunday in August two years later, Ochoa went to church with his family. On the way home, he asked his wife for money to buy drugs. She gave in, and he bought a $10 rock of crack, according to court records. He went out back to smoke it, then walked into the bedroom — and came back out with a 9mm handgun. He walked into the living room, where he systematically shot his wife, their 9-month-old daughter Anahi, his father-in-law Bartolo and his sisters-in-law Alma and Jackie. He then walked into the kitchen and shot his 7-year-old daughter Crystal four times.
Only Alma survived.
Afterward, Ochoa got in his wife’s Toyota 4Runner and drove away. When police stopped and arrested him minutes later at a nearby shopping center, he told the officer where he’d left the gun and gave a detailed written confession.
“He said he remembers it like a dream,” his brother Gilbert told a Dallas-Fort Worth TV station the next day. “He was doing that drug outside and then he went into the living room.”
When the case went to trial, his lawyers argued that he’d committed the slayings in a cocaine-induced delirium, and that he had poor impulse control due to frontal lobe damage from drug use.
Prosecutors argued that he’d simply acted out of anger.
After he was convicted and sent to death row, Ochoa filed appeals accusing his trial team of shoddy work. The defense investigator responsible for learning about Ochoa’s life and uncovering reasons to spare him didn’t speak the same language as many of the witnesses she was supposed to interview, he argued to a federal court. The judge had only approved her appointment at the last minute, and the trial attorneys didn’t ask for more time until it was too late.
But a federal district court decided that it wasn’t clear more investigating would “substantially improve” Ochoa’s chances of success, and a federal appeals court said Ochoa’s attorneys were “simply seeking to ‘turn over every stone’” when they asked for the time and money to get another investigator.
“No stones, in fact, have been turned over, because of the lack of funds,” Ochoa’s lawyers wrote. “Far from quality representation, Mr. Ochoa has only had counsel deprived of any means to effectuate his representation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Ochoa’s case in October 2019, but on Wednesday his attorneys tried again in the high court. This time, his legal team wrote that he wanted to send the parole board a video plea for clemency - but the prison system at first wouldn’t let his lawyers film him without a court order. Reporters are often allowed to film interviews, and Ochoa’s lawyers took issue with the prison’s initial reluctance to allow them the same access.
After Ochoa’s death, seven more Texas executions already are on the calendar for 2020.
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