Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Texas: Execution of death row inmate Rigoberto Avila Jr. delayed

The execution of an El Paso man convicted in the 2000 beating death of his girlfriend's 19-month-old son has been delayed for a second time.

Rigoberto Avila Jr., 40, had been scheduled to be put to death next week. His execution was originally scheduled for Dec. 12.

In 2001, Avila was sentenced to death by the same El Paso jury that convicted him in the death of Nicholas Macias, who was fatally beaten while Avila was baby-sitting Nicholas and his sibling on Feb. 29, 2000.

Following a court hearing Tuesday morning, 41st District Judge Anna Perez ruled additional time is necessary to allow Avila's defense attorney, Cathryn Crawford of the Texas Defender Service, to explore possible new evidence of Avila's innocence. Perez also ordered that Avila's execution be rescheduled for July 10.

Perez had originally denied a motion by Crawford last week seeking to delay Avila's execution, but on Monday Crawford asked Perez to reconsider her ruling.

According to an "execution alert" newsletter from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Crawford, who was appointed to the case in February, has discovered possible evidence that Nicholas might have been injured by a sibling while the two were mimicking wrestling moves.

Officials with the coalition also stated Avila signed the confession after a detective woke him up while he was sleeping and told Avila he needed to sign the second statement because the detective needed to clarify some
information. Avila had assumed "it was essentially the same as the earlier statement, Mr. Avila did not read it, but simply affixed his signature at the end. This statement, which Mr. Avila has consistently said was not true, was used against him at trial."

Crawford couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

According to an objection filed by Assistant District Attorney Tom Darnold in response to Crawford's claims, Avila and his trial attorneys, Matthew DeKoatz and Peter Escobar, didn't fully refute the statement given to police homicide detectives or claim Nicholas' sibling had caused the boy's injuries.

"... Avila did not try to convince the jury that (Nicholas' sibling) caused Nicholas' injuries; rather, Avila merely attempted to repudiate the accuracy and voluntariness of his confession, claiming that he did not read it before signing it," Darnold wrote in the objection.

During Avila's trial, state prosecutors alleged Avila repeatedly kicked and stomped Nicholas, causing injuries so severe that the boy's organs were ripped from his spine. Paramedics also found a bruise on Nicholas' abdomen in the shape of a footprint.

A pediatric surgeon who operated on Nicholas testified he had observed similar injuries to the ones found on Nicholas' abdomen when a person "had jumped out of a vehicle going 60 miles an hour."

Avila, who testified during his trial, denied injuring the boy, but according to his police statement he admitted to stomping on the boy because he was jealous of the attention the boy's mother, Marcelina Macias, was giving the child.

Avila had been baby-sitting Nicholas and the boy's older brother at the time of Nicholas' death, while Marcelina Macias was attending a college class.

Avila is one of nine El Pasoans currently on death row.

Source: Adriana M. Chávez, El Paso Times, March 3, 2013