"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Texas executes Manuel Garza

Manuel Garza Jr.
Manuel Garza Jr.
Texas executed Manuel Garza Jr. on Wednesday for seizing a gun from a San Antonio police officer and fatally shooting him in a struggle in 2001.

Garza, 35, was put to death by lethal injection at 6:40 p.m. at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville.

Asked to make a final statement, Garza said he was sorry for causing pain to his family, friends and "especially police officers."

"Y'all probably hate me," he said, looking at three friends of his victim, dressed in their navy blue San Antonio police uniforms. He wished them "peace and love and hope y'all find God like I have and I'll see you on the other side."

As the lethal drug began taking effect, Garza uttered: "Here it comes!" His voice rose as he said "Good bye," and then he let out a howl that was cut short within seconds as he took three deep breaths, then a couple shallow ones.

He was pronounced dead 26 minutes later at 6:40 p.m. CDT.

Two of Manuel Garza's witnesses were his mother and his wife, whom he married while on death row.

Manuel Garza Jr. already had a lengthy criminal record and was wanted on outstanding warrants when a police officer working on a special team targeting property crimes stopped him at a San Antonio apartment complex in 2001.

"I knew he'd find out about the warrants and I didn't want to go to jail, so I just ran," Garza, who was 20 at the time, would say later.

Officer John "Rocky" Riojas jumped out of his patrol car, leaving the door open and engine running, and chased Garza into a maze of walkways at the complex. After Riojas caught Garza, a witness saw Garza get his hands on Riojas' gun during a struggle that left the 37-year-old San Antonio SWAT officer dead from a gunshot to the head.

The 35-year-old Garza is the 6th convicted killer put to death this year in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state. He is the 1st inmate executed with a new small supply of pentobarbital recently obtained by Texas prison officials.

If 2 other lethal injections set for this month are carried out, officials once again will have exhausted the state's supply of the execution drug. After that, Texas' stock of the increasingly difficult-to-obtain sedative will need to be replenished or a new chemical found as a replacement to handle at least three more executions on the schedule starting next month.

No late appeals for Garza were pending in the courts Tuesday. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case last year.

Garza was taken into custody the day after the Feb. 2, 2001, shooting. Evidence showed he fled the scene with Riojas' gun and sold the .40-caliber Glock to a relative who then tried to sell it to a police informant after learning from TV reports that the officer's weapon was missing. The informant alerted authorities who traced the semi-automatic pistol back to Garza.

In a statement to detectives, Garza blamed Riojas for the shooting.

"I truly think this was the cop's fault," he said. "I don't see why he wanted to pull out his gun."

He asked for justice and for the courts to "please have mercy on me and give me the benefit of the doubt."

"I wasn't raised right," he added.

Defense attorneys contended Garza, whose criminal record began at age 14, was a product of childhood neglect and abuse.

Bill Pennington, one of the Bexar County prosecutors handling the case, said a key part of the guilt-innocence portion of the trial focused on defense efforts to characterize the shooting by Garza as accidental.

"It wasn't an issue of whether he did it or not," Pennington said last week.

A Bexar County jury deliberated about three hours before convicting Garza. At the trial's punishment phase, prosecutors called some 60 witnesses over 2 days to detail Garza's lengthy criminal history that included burglaries, thefts, escaping from custody and leading police on a chase in a stolen car.

Pennington said Riojas was "a larger than life kind of guy that everybody knew and everybody respected."

"The entire police force felt like they had their heart tugged out of them when he died," the prosecutor said.

Source: Associated Press, April 15, 2015

Related article:
- Texas: Just because you have a right to a lawyer, doesn't mean that they have to be any good, Austin Chronicle, April 10, 2015.

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