HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — 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, one of the two 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 third this year in Texas and the fifth 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 two 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 three days after the killing. Ruiz had made two 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 seven 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.