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Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

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Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Texas executes Rolando Ruiz

Rolando Ruiz
Rolando Ruiz
The U.S. Supreme Court denied the appeals from attorneys trying to keep a paid hit man from execution in Texas for gunning down a San Antonio woman in a life insurance scheme nearly a quarter-century ago.

Rolando Ruiz was convicted of accepting $2,000 to fatally shoot Theresa Rodriguez, 29, outside her home in 1992 as she was getting out of a car with her husband and brother-in-law, who both orchestrated her murder.

The ruling came down just after 10 p.m. and he was pronounced dead at 11:06 p.m.

The execution was delayed nearly 5 hours before the U.S. Supreme Court rejected last-day appeals from Ruiz's attorneys.

Ruiz approached a car pulling up to Rodriguez's home the night of July 14, 1992, under the guise of seeking directions.

Her husband of nearly seven years, Michael, was in the car along with Michael's brother, Mark. Ruiz, who already had pocketed $1,000 and had failed in two earlier killing attempts, asked Mark Rodriguez if he wanted him to "do it," and Rodriguez gave him the go-ahead. As Theresa Rodriguez was getting out of the car, Ruiz put a .357 Magnum revolver to her head and fired.

3 days later, Ruiz collected another $1,000 for the completed job.

Evidence showed Michael Rodriguez stood to collect at least a quarter-million dollars in insurance benefits from his wife's death and that he'd recently applied for another $150,000 in life insurance for her.

Ruiz had met Mark Rodriguez at the home of a mutual friend, was arrested nine days after the shooting and implicated the brothers.

The police investigation was aided by a telephone tip after Theresa Rodriguez's employer, the San Antonio-based financial services giant USAA, offered a $50,000 reward for information about her slaying.

Ruiz becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 541st overall since the state resumed capital punishment on december 7, 1982. Ruiz becomes the 23rd condemned inmate to be put to death in Texas since greg Abbott became governor.

Ruiz becomes the 5th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1447th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Source: KSAT news, Rick Halperin, March 7, 2017


Texas Hit Man Executed for 1992 Murder


It’s been almost 25 years since Rolando Ruiz shot and killed a San Antonio woman in her garage. He was a 20-year-old hitman, paid $2,000 by the woman's husband and brother-in-law, who were out to collect her life insurance money.

Ruiz killed 29-year-old Theresa Rodriguez in July 1992; he was convicted and sentenced to death almost three years later. Rodriguez’s husband and brother-in-law, Michael and Mark Rodriguez, both received life sentences.

Michael, the husband, escaped from prison in 2000, one of the notorious “Texas 7.” He was sentenced to death and executed in 2008 for a murder the prisoners committed while on the run. Mark, the brother-in-law, was released on parole in 2011 and was recently charged with felony theft in an alleged roofing scam.

Ruiz lived in solitary confinement on death row, awaiting an execution that has come down to the wire four times.

“He’s actually had three different execution dates before this one, two of which were stayed at the eleventh hour,” said Burke Butler, one of Ruiz’s appellate attorneys with the Texas Defender Service. “That obviously is something that causes immense psychological pain and stress.”

Ruiz had multiple petitions pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, most claiming his prolonged confinement on death row — about 22 years, or half of his life — qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

The court has been divided on that matter; Justice Stephen Breyer, the high court’s leading death penalty opponent, said in a 1999 opinion that it is cruel and unusual to leave inmates on death row for decades. Others, like Justice Clarence Thomas, have argued it is the defendant who creates the long confinement by filing and refiling appeals.

Ruiz’s first execution was scheduled for July 2007, 12 years after he was sentenced to death.

He had been trying unsuccessfully to bring his claims of ineffective counsel to court. He argued his trial lawyer didn’t present enough mitigating evidence in court, like an abusive childhood and substance abuse, and that his state appellate lawyer failed to bring up his ineffective trial lawyer in appeals. Although a federal court agreed with Ruiz’s argument and went so far as to call his appellate lawyer’s representation “appallingly inept,” procedural rules kept that court from reviewing his case.

But after a new, last-minute filing, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Ruiz a stay and agreed to review the case. Ruiz was sitting in a holding cell waiting to be walked into the execution chamber. Instead he was led out of the prison and back to death row.

Ultimately, the lower federal court ruled that Ruiz’s claims of ineffective counsel were not worthy of a new sentencing trial, and a new execution date was set for July. It was rescheduled to Aug. 31. But five days before that execution, he got another stay, this time from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Ruiz had filed another appeal a couple of weeks earlier, and the court postponed his execution while it reviewed the case. In November, its judges issued a harsh ruling denying Ruiz’s claims — both of ineffective counsel and of cruel and unusual punishment.

“Rolando Ruiz does not contest his guilt. He just doesn’t want to be executed. Neither did Theresa Rodriguez,” Judge Bert Richardson wrote in the court’s opinion.

At the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, appellate division chief Rico Valdez said Ruiz deserves the death penalty because of his violent nature.

“In Ruiz’s case, it’s just his background. He just had a history of being a violent person,” Valdez said.

Ruiz was a gang member and has had multiple violent encounters in prison with inmates and officers, Valdez said. According to prison records, Ruiz was convicted of aggravated assault on a Bexar County corrections officer while he was awaiting his original death penalty trial.

Sources: The Texas Tribune, March 7, 2017


Hit man in San Antonio murder-for-hire slaying set to die


Texas' Death House, The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
Texas' Death House, The Walls Unit, Huntsville, Texas
Rolando Ruiz is scheduled to die for the murder-for-hire slaying he carried out more than 24 years ago

Rolando Ruiz walked up to a car as it pulled into the driveway of a San Antonio home and said he needed directions.

Then he asked Mark Rodriguez, 1 of the 2 men inside the vehicle, "Do I do it?" Rodriguez replied: "Yes."

Theresa Rodriguez, Mark's sister-in-law, was getting out the passenger side of the car, looked up at Ruiz as he walked toward her and smiled at him, according to court documents. Ruiz put a .357 Magnum revolver to her head and fired.

On Tuesday, Ruiz, 44, was set for lethal injection for the murder-for-hire slaying he carried out more than 24 years ago. Evidence showed he received $2,000 from Mark Rodriguez, whose brother, Michael, stood to collect at least a quarter-million dollars in insurance benefits from his 29-year-old wife's death. Evidence also showed Michael Rodriguez, who also was in the car the night of July 14, 1992, recently had applied for another $150,000 in life insurance for his wife.

Ruiz's execution would be the 3rd this year in Texas and the 5th nationally.

His lawyers argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that lower courts improperly rejected an earlier appeal. They also contended Ruiz's execution would be unconstitutionally cruel because he's suffered a "uniquely devastating psychological toll" after nearly a quarter-century on death row, multiple execution dates and 2 reprieves.

"It is entirely attributable to the state's failure to provide competent lawyers," attorney Lee Kovarsky told the high court in a filing. He also argued the deterrent value of the punishment was "undercut" by the lengthy time between imposing the sentence and carrying it out.

State attorneys contended Ruiz's arguments were meant to distract the courts from the weakness of his claims and said Ruiz had taken advantage of legal mechanisms to ensure his conviction and sentence were proper and previous judicial reviews found no constitutional error. While some individual Supreme Court justices have raised questions about long death row confinement, the courts consistently have ruled it was not unconstitutionally cruel, Assistant Texas Attorney General Edward Marshall told the justices. Ruiz's arguments about earlier deficient legal help "have been inspected, scrutinized, studied, probed, analyzed, reviewed and evaluated" at all levels of the federal courts, he said.

Ruiz had met Mark Rodriguez at the home of a mutual friend, was arrested nine days after the shooting and implicated the brothers in the contract killing scheme. Police focused on him after receiving a telephone tip after Theresa Rodriguez's employer, the insurance firm USAA, offered a $50,000 reward for information about her slaying.

Court records show Ruiz after the shooting drove off in a car waiting for him on the street. Evidence showed Mark Rodriguez already had paid him $1,000, then gave him another $1,000 3 days after the killing. Ruiz had made 2 earlier unsuccessful attempts to kill Theresa Rodriguez.

The Rodriguez brothers eventually accepted life prison terms in plea deals. Mark Rodriguez was paroled in 2011.

Michael Rodriguez later joined Ruiz on death row as one of the notorious Texas 7, a group of 7 inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison in 2000, remained fugitives for weeks and killed a Dallas-area police officer. He was executed in 2008. He blamed his infatuation with a younger woman for the contract murder plot.

Joe Ramon, who accompanied Ruiz the night of the shooting, and Robert Silva, identified as the intermediary who put the Rodriguez brothers in touch with Ruiz, also received life prison sentences.

Source: Associated Press, March 7, 2017


Texas killer Ruiz apologizes for '92 contract murder before execution


Texas Death Chamber
Texas' death chamber
"Words cannot begin to express how sorry I am," the condemned prisoner said in his final statement.

After the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last appeal, condemned contract killer Rolando Ruiz, Jr., was executed Tuesday night by the state of Texas -- its 3rd lethal injection in the past 2 months.

Prison officials at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville administered the lethal drugs at around 10:30 p.m., not long after the Supreme Court's decision. He was pronounced dead 29 minutes later.

Ruiz previously received 2 stays of execution from federal and state appeals courts. Monday, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit denied another request for a stay and the United States' highest court followed suit late Tuesday.

Ruiz, 44, was tried and convicted of the 1992 contract killing of Theresa Rodriguez, which was orchestrated by her husband, Michael, and his brother, Mark, in order to collect on her $400,000 life insurance policy.

Ruiz showed remorse for the 29-year-old woman's death in his final statement Tuesday night.

"I would like to say to the Sanchez family how sorry I am. Words cannot begin to express how sorry I am and the hurt that I have caused you and your family," he told the woman's relatives just moments before his execution began. "To my family, thank you for all your love and support. I am at peace. Jesus Christ is Lord. I love you all."

2 of Theresa Rodriguez's sisters and 2 brothers in-law witnessed the execution, as did an acquaintance and half-brother of Ruiz's.

"There's never closure," the victim's father, Eddie Sanchez, said Monday. "It's not going to bring my daughter back."

Detectives found during their criminal investigation that Ruiz was paid $2,000 to kill Rodriguez when she returned home from an outing with her husband and brother in-law, who were in on the plot, on July 14, 1992. She was shot once in the face by Ruiz, who ambushed her while she sat in a car in the driveway of her San Antonio home.

The Rodriguez brothers pleaded guilty in the case and received life in prison. Ruiz, who was 20 at the time of the crime, was given a death sentence after a jury found him guilty of capital murder in May 1995.

Michael Rodriguez was later a member of the Texas Seven, a group of prisoners who escaped from a prison in east central Texas in 2000. He was executed 8 years later for killing a police officer during the escape.

The issue weighed by the Supreme Court Tuesday night was whether Ruiz had been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by spending 17 years in solitary confinement. Ruiz's attorneys argued in their petition that he had been, which would constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment. The high court disagreed.

Ruiz's execution follows the lethal injections of 2 other convicted killers in Texas this year -- Christopher Chubasco Wilkins and Terry Darnell Edwards on Jan. 11 and Jan. 26, respectively. It is the 5th death sentence carried out in the United States this year.

Historically, Texas is the most active state when it comes to executing inmates. Nearly 550 Texas prisoners have been put to death since a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1976. By contrast, California, which holds a death row population nearly 3 times the size of Texas, has executed 13 people. Florida, which incarcerates the nation's 2nd-largest group of condemned inmates (396), has executed less than 100 in that same time span. In 2016, though, Georgia carried out the most executions (9) in the country, followed by Texas (7).

Earlier this year, Texas filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for preventing the state from importing drugs that are used in lethal injections. Several other states are also having difficulty obtaining the drugs traditionally used in a 3-step process. Last week, Arkansas scheduled the executions of 8 prisoners on 4 days in April, purportedly because its supply of 1 drug will expire in May.

Source: UPI, March 8, 2017

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