HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Convicted killer Robert Gene Garza was facing the Texas death chamber Thursday for his involvement in a street gang ambush in which four women were gunned down in South Texas 11 years ago.
Garza, 30, would be the 12th condemned inmate executed this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment far more than any other state.
A member of a Rio Grande Valley gang known as the Tri-City Bombers even before he was a teenager, Garza insisted a statement to police acknowledging his participation in the September 2002 shootings in Hidalgo County was made under duress and improperly obtained.
But prosecutors said Garza orchestrated the gang's plan to silence the women, who he thought had witnessed another gang crime, and was present when several gang members opened fire on the women when they arrived at their trailer park home after work at a bar.
"I really didn't have anything to do with the scenario the state was providing," Garza told The Associated Press recently from death row. "I guess since we are gang members, they got me involved through the gang.
"I think they were just trying to close his case ... and they needed somebody."
Evidence later would show the women were killed by mistake. The gang member in that case never went to trial because he accepted a plea deal and prison term.
Garza, who was arrested in late January 2003, was convicted under Texas' law of parties, which makes a non-triggerman equally culpable. Evidence showed Garza was a gang leader, told his companions how to do the killings, was present when the shootings took place and "in all likelihood was a shooter but is downplaying his part," Joseph Orendain, the Hidalgo County assistant district attorney who prosecuted him, said this week.
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case. His lawyer, Don Vernay, said appeals were exhausted.
Garza filed his own last-day appeals Thursday to the high court, arguing his trial attorneys failed to obtain from his mother testimony jurors should have been allowed to hear that he stayed in the gang because he feared retaliation if he quit. He also contended his trial court judge earlier this week improperly refused his request to withdraw his execution date. Garza argued the state should assure him the lethal dose of pentobarbital to be used in his punishment was chemically effective and obtained legally.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials have said their existing inventory of pentobarbital is expiring this month, meaning they'd have to find another yet undisclosed source or drug to use in executions because manufacturers have refused to sell it for death penalty use.
Garza also was charged but never tried for participating in what became known in the Rio Grande Valley as the Edinburg massacre, the January 2003 slayings of six people at a home in the city.
In the case that sent him to death row, Garza was convicted of two counts of capital murder for the slayings of the four women. Evidence showed they were living in the U.S. without legal permission just outside Donna, about 15 miles southeast of McAllen.
In his statement to investigators, which Garza insisted was coerced, he said he carried out the "hit" with three other gunmen in two vehicles who opened fire on six women in their parked car. Killed were Maria De La Luz Bazaldua Cobbarubias, Dantizene Lizeth Vasquez Beltran, Celina Linares Sanchez and Lourdes Yesenia Araujo Torres. Two others survived.