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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Texas to execute Rolando Ruiz on March 7, James Bigby on March 14, 2017

Rolando Ruiz, Jr.
Rolando Ruiz, Jr.

Texas Prepares for Execution of Rolando Ruiz on March 7, 2017


Rolando Ruiz, Jr., is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm CST, on Tuesday, March 7, 2017, at the Walls Unit of the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.

44-year-old Rolando is convicted of murdering 29-year-old Theresa Rodriguez on July 14, 1992, in San Antonio, Texas.

Rolando has spent the last 21 years of his life on Texas' death row.

As a child, Rolando was allegedly abused, which led him to be addicted to drugs and alcohol. Rolando also claims that because of his excessive use of drugs and alcohol, he has difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

Rolando dropped out of school following the 10th grade. He worked as a laborer prior to his arrest. Rolando has previously been arrested and served time for assaulting his ex-girlfriend and stealing her vehicle. While in prison, he assaulted a jailer.

In 1992, Rolando Ruiz was hired by Michael and Mark Rodriguez to kill Michael's wife, Theresa. Michael agreed to pay Ruiz $1,000 up front, with an additional $1,000 being paid once the job was completed. Prior to the hiring of Ruiz, Michael took out a $150,000 life insurance policy on his wife and himself, in addition to the $250,000 policy he already had.

Michael planned for Ruiz to rob and murder Theresa on July 10, 1992, when she arrived for work at a restaurant. Ruiz called off the attack when he spotted a security guard. Michael then asked Ruiz to kill Theresa when they were leaving the movies later that night. Michael and Theresa never showed up at the movies.

On July 14, 1992, Mark told Ruiz that he was to follow Michael and Theresa home from the movie theater and then kill her. When Michael pulled the car to stop at his home, Ruiz ran up to the passenger side door and shot Theresa once in the head as she attempted to exit the vehicle Without robbing her, Ruiz fled the scene and spent the rest of the evening playing basketball. 3 days later, Ruiz received his 2nd payment of $1,000.

Mark and Michael were sentenced to life in prison after accepting plea agreements, while Rolando received the death sentence. In December of 2000, Michael broke out of prison as a member of the Texas 7. During efforts to recapture the group, police officer Aubry Hawkins was killed. Michael was sentenced to death and executed on August 14, 2008.

2 other men, Joe Ramon and Robert Silva were also sentenced to life in prison for their part in the murder if Theresa. Joe accompanied Ruiz on the night of the murder, while Robert was responsible for putting the Rodriguez brothers in touch with Ruiz. Since in prison, Ruiz is believed to have joined the Texas Syndicate, a notorious prison gang that causes disturbances and assaults other inmates and officers.

Rolando Ruiz was twice scheduled to be executed in 2016. The reasons those executions were halted has not been stated.

Texas Prepares for Execution of James Bigby on March 14, 2017


James Bigby
James Bigby
James Eugene Bigby is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm CDT, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at the Walls Unit of the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.

61-year-old James is convicted of the murder of 26-year-old Michael Trekell, Michael's 4-month-old son Jayson Kehler, Calvin Wesley Crane, and Frank "Bubba" Johnson, on December 23-24, 1987, in Tarrant County, Texas. James has spent the last 25 years of his life on Texas' death row.

James had a difficult upbringing. His mother allegedly drank while pregnant with him and breastfed him until the age of 7.

James' mother also gave away his siblings to be raised by other relatives. He grew up fearing that his mother would abandon him, as his father had.

Additionally, his mother and siblings all suffer from mental health issues and have struggled to live successful lives.

James had previously been hospitalized multiple times for schizo-affective disorder and depression. He had also received electroshock therapy during one of his stays. James had previously been arrested and served time for various robberies and a sexual assault charge. James dropped out of school following the 9th grade and worked at Frito-Lay prior to his arrest as an auto mechanic.

In late December 1987, James Bigby had a pending worker's compensation claim against his employer, Frito-Lay. Bigby was paranoid that several of his friends were conspiring against him to thwart his claim. On December 23, 1987, Bigby bought 2 steaks and took them to the home of his friend, Michael Trekell, who also had a 4-month-old son, Jayson, in Fort Worth, Texas. While Michael prepared the steaks, Bigby shot and killed him. Bigby then drowned Jayson in the sink.

Bigby left the murder scene and drove to the apartment of his friend Calvin Crane. Bigby and Calvin talked for a short time before Bigby asked Calvin to drive him to the store. Calvin agreed and on the way back from the store, Bigby forced Clavin, at gunpoint, to pull over and get out of the truck. Bigby shot Calvin in the head, killing him. Bigby left Calvin's body along side the road and drove the truck back to Calvin's apartment, retrieved several items from his car, and left again in Calvin's truck.

Bigby then drove to Arlington, Texas, and arrived at the home of Frank "Bubba" Johnson, around 3:20 am on December 24, 1987. Bigby rang to doorbell and Bubba answered. After a short discussion, Bigby shot Bubba 3 times, killing him. Bigby fled the scene in Calvin's truck.

A massive manhunt ensued, and Bigby was arrested on December 26, 1987, after a stand-off at a local motel. A police negotiator had to be called in to talk to Bigby and get him to surrender. While talking to the negotiator, Bigby confessed to the murders. He also later gave a written confession, after being arrested by police.

During Bigby's 1991 trial, Bigby seized a loaded revolver from the judge's bench during a recess. Bigby walked into the judge's chamber and pointed the gun at the judge saying, "Let's go, Judge." The judge was quickly able to disarm Bigby and he was subdued. Bigby's lawyers attempted to have the judge removed from the case and a mistrial declared, but they were unsuccessful. Bigby's lawyers attempted to mount an insanity defense for Bigby, but they were unsuccessful. The jury found Bigby guilty and he was sentenced to death.

Source: theforgivenessfoundation.org, March 4, 2017

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