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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Texas executes Gustavo Garcia

Gustavo Garcia in 1992
Gustavo Garcia in 1992
Huntsville, Texas - Gustavo Garcia was executed Tuesday evening for the 1990 murder of a Dallas-area liquor store clerk, ending his 24 years on death row.

Garcia's lethal injection was the 3rd this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state.

He was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m., 16 minutes after he was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital.

Garcia, 43, was sentenced to death for the fatal 1990 shooting of Craig Turski during a robbery.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a clemency petition and a federal judge considering an appeal Friday refused to halt the execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to review an appeal that challenged the competency of Garcia's earlier legal help. Then last week, the high court turned down a request for a rehearing on that ruling.

Seth Kretzer, one of Garcia's lawyers, said Monday he anticipated no last-day appeals to the courts.

Garcia spent more than half of his life on death row for the killing of Turski, a cashier at a Plano liquor store. 

Garcia was 18 at the time of the slaying, which was 1 of 2 tied to him and 15-year-old Christopher Vargas.

Vargas was tried and convicted as an adult and given a life sentence, but his age made him ineligible for the death penalty.

Court documents show Garcia shot Turski in the abdomen on Dec. 9, 1990, then reloaded and shot the 43-year-old man in the back of the head. A month later, Garcia and Vargas entered a Plano convenience store armed with a sawed-off shotgun and carried out a holdup in which another clerk, 18-year-old Gregory Martin, was fatally shot in the head.

Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend just before the shooting and told her to call police. Officers arrived and found Vargas standing over Martin's body and Garcia hiding in a beer cooler with the shotgun nearby. Authorities later determined the weapon was the same one used in Turski's death.

In a statement to police after his arrest for Martin's killing, Garcia said he'd ordered Turski to his knees and then a customer entered the store.

"I then panicked," he said. "I shot the clerk with the shotgun."

On Thanksgiving night in 1998, Garcia and 5 other death row inmates were scaling a pair of 10-foot-high prison fences when corrections officers opened fire on them and they surrendered.

A 7th death row prisoner, Martin Gurule, was shot but managed to flee, making him the 1st inmate to escape Texas death row since a Bonnie and Clyde gang member broke out in 1934. Gurule's body was found about a week later in a creek a few miles from the prison. An autopsy showed he drowned.

"At least I can say I tried," Garcia said of the escape attempt in a 1999 interview with The Associated Press. "Facing execution is scarier."

He declined an interview request as his execution date neared.

Garcia's death sentence was overturned on appeal in 2000, due to testimony from psychologist Walter Quijano, who the Texas Tribune reported had testified "that Hispanics were more likely to pose a future danger to society." He was granted a new sentencing trial, but was sentenced to death again in 2001.

Garcia becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 534th overall since Texas resumed executions on December 7, 1982. Garcia becomes the 16th condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since Greg Abbott became governor in Jan. 2015.

Garcia becomes the 6th condemned ionmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1428th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

At least 9 other Texas inmates have execution dates set for the coming months, including 3 in March.

Sources: Associated Press, Rick Halperin, Twitter feed, February 16, 2016

Scalia's Final Order Was To Let This Texas Man Die

After 15 years of court battles, Gustavo Garcia became the 6th person put to death in 2016, for the murder of a liquor store clerk. And he's the subject of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's final legal action.

Just 3 days before his own death, Scalia denied Garcia's plea for a stay of execution.

Garcia's final words on Tuesday night were: "To my family, to my mom, I love you. God bless you. Stay strong. I'm done."

He was 18 years old when he fatally shot 2 store clerks in Plano, Texas: Craig Turski and Gregory Martin. Turski was shot in the abdomen during a liquor store robbery in December 1990. When he tried to run, Garcia shot him in the back of the head.

The teenager was caught during a 2nd robbery attempt 1 month later. In January 1991, Garcia and accomplice Christopher Vargas entered the gas station where Gregory Martin worked. Martin was on the phone at the time and asked his girlfriend to call the police, fearing he was about to be robbed. Garcia moved Martin to a separate room and shot him point blank in the head. When police arrived at the scene, they found Garcia hiding near the firearm, which they linked to Turski's murder.

Garcia was informed of his Miranda rights while he was in police custody, but he ultimately confessed to both murders verbally and in writing. He went to trial for killing Turski and was sentenced to capital punishment at the end of 1991.

In a surprising twist 3 years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction because the written confession was missing language required by Texas to make the statement valid.

The document that Garcia signed and initialed didn't explicitly mention that he was "[knowingly], [intelligently], and [voluntarily]" waiving the right to remain silent during the interrogation process. Garcia was subsequently given a 2nd hearing and re-sentenced to death.

Then in 2001, Garcia got another break. John Cornyn, Texas' former attorney general, ordered new sentencing hearings for Garcia and 5 other convicted murderers who were racially profiled in court.

In all 6 cases, a psychologist argued that the defendants posed a threat to society because they were Hispanic. Cornyn believed that racial bias should not have played a role in the sentencing, and Garcia was given another chance at a lesser punishment. But he was sentenced to die again.

Thereafter, Garcia fought the execution on the grounds that he received deficient counsel. He claimed his lawyer never objected to introducing the confessions in court, and that he was unable to read the confession because he is "legally blind."

Scalia denied Garcia's final appeal for a stay of execution last Wednesday.

The late justice's order was consistent with his unrelenting stance on capital punishment. Scalia was always a staunch supporter of executions, even in cases where there was strong evidence to suggest a person's innocence or reason to believe that a commonly used lethal injection cocktail causes the sensation of being burned alive.

He was the 3rd person Texas has put to death in 2016. The state has executed more people than any other state in the country, and has already carried out 1/2 of the executions this year.

Source: thinkprogress.org, Feb. 18, 2016

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