Texas 7" fugitive volunteering to die Thursday
Condemned prisoner Michael Rodriguez sees his execution as a chance to
make amends for some very bad decisions.
His first bad decision led to the murder of his wife. The second made him
a key partner in one of Texas' most notorious prison breaks and ultimately
cost the life of a Dallas-area police officer gunned down by the gang of
fugitives who became known as the "Texas 7."
"Sadly, a lot of people got hurt," Rodriguez, who for two years has been
pushing for his own lethal injection that's set for Thursday, told The
Associated Press from outside death row. "I think it's a fair sentence. I
need to pay back. I can't pay back monetarily. This is the way."
Rodriguez, 45, would be the first of the six surviving members of the
infamous "Texas 7" 7 convicts who broke out of a South Texas prison in
December 2000 to be executed.
The gang was captured in Colorado after six weeks on the run. One of them,
Larry Harper, killed himself rather than surrender to authorities, but not
before they all were involved in the fatal shooting of Aubrey Hawkins, an
Irving policeman, during a Christmas Eve robbery of a sporting goods store
in the Dallas suburb.
"I'm glad we got caught, so no one else would get hurt," Rodriguez said in
an interview at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice, home to death row.
His 5 remaining accomplices George Rivas, Randy Halprin, Donald Newbury,
Joseph Garcia and Patrick Murphy also are there and awaiting the outcome
of appeals. None of them has an execution date.
Rodriguez would be the eighth prisoner executed in the nation's most
active capital punishment state this year and the second this week. On
Tuesday, Leon Dorsey was put to death for a 1994 robbery at a Dallas video
store where 2 employees were gunned down. Another execution is scheduled
in Texas for next week.
Rodriguez's punishment was expected to draw dozens of police officers to
Huntsville to stand vigil outside the prison while Hawkins' widow, Lori,
was inside watching the convicted killer die.
"I'll be there," she said. "Absolutely. I wouldn't miss this."
Lori Hawkins credited Rodriguez with being "the first one to really admit
his guilt" but said his words of apology were "a little too late."
"It didn't have to happen," she said of the fatal shooting of her husband
of four years. "Aubrey didn't need to die."
Rodriguez has been pushing for his own death for more than 2 years,
starting in early 2006 with a hand-printed letter mailed to the federal
courthouse in Dallas.
"I am a college graduate and have no delusions what will occur as an end
result of these proceedings," Rodriguez wrote in the first of an almost
monthly series of letters that wound up before a federal judge.
After hearings to ensure Rodriguez was competent to make that kind of
decision, his plea to drop appeals and be put to death finally was
approved Sept. 27, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to
consider a Kentucky case that stopped all executions in the country with a
challenge arguing the method was unconstitutionally cruel.
"It was frustrating," Rodriguez said of the execution halt. "It's hard to
sit back and see where they stopped it and not know if they would start if
again. I did everything I could, and it was stopped. At some point, you
just sit back and laugh."
When the justices in April upheld the method as proper, Rodriguez's death
date was set for Thursday.
"I'm ready to go, to be accountable," he said from death row.
Toby Shook, a former Dallas County assistant district attorney who
prosecuted Rodriguez, said he thought the former restaurant operator in
San Antonio was being "very pragmatic."
"It's going to happen," Shook said, describing the case against him and
the other former fugitives as "iron tight."
"He's able to at least make one decision on his own," Shook said. "He's
choosing the time."
The 7 prisoners overpowered workers at the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice Connally Unit near Kenedy in South Texas on Dec. 13, 2000, took
the workers' clothes, then grabbed 16 guns from the prison armory and fled
in a stolen truck. They ditched that truck for another that had been left
for them at a Wal-Mart store a few miles away. Rodriguez's father later
would be convicted of providing that vehicle.
Then 12 days later, while robbing an Irving sporting goods store of cash,
clothing and more weapons, they killed Hawkins, who was shot 11 times and
then run over with his own patrol car.
They were captured another 4 weeks later in Colorado.
At the time of the escape, Rodriguez was serving a life term for hiring a
hit man to kill his wife, Theresa, 29, to collect her $250,000 life
insurance. She was gunned down in 1992 getting out of her car outside
their San Antonio home. The triggerman, Rolando Ruiz, also is on death
Rodiguez was taking college classes at the time and said he'd been smitten
with a younger female student.
"The lust of a coed," he said. "I can't explain it. My wife was a
wonderful person and didn't deserve this. I fell for a coed. It was
stupid. ... But I was a willing participant. ... I really thought I would
get off, like a lot of people who are deluded."
Set to die next week is Jeffery Wood, condemned for his part in the
robbery-slaying of a Kerrville convenience store clerk in 1996. Another
execution scheduled for next week, for Denard Manns, convicted of the
rape-slaying of a woman in Killeen, has been moved to November by his Bell
County trial court judge.
(source: Associated Press)
Death is too expensive
I have represented a number of individuals in Dallas County who were
charged and tried for the death penalty. As requirements imposed by the
Supreme Court demand increased work output and investigation, the price of
these trials has gone through the roof. The last one I tried in 2007 cost
taxpayers over $1 million to get to verdict.
As of Sept. 1, 2005, Texas law provides that a person convicted of capital
murder will be automatically sentenced to prison for life without parole.
These cases cost only a few thousand dollars to try and appeals are
limited to the issue of guilt or innocence. These cases don't require the
lengthy federal appellate scrutiny that death sentences must have by law.
Dallas County has several capital murder cases pending, which will cost
Dallas County taxpayers millions of dollars in the next few months. I
suggest that if Dallas County wants to trim spending, look to the
unnecessary funds spent to try defendants who have committed their
offenses after Sept. 1, 2005. Surely our tax dollars are better spent on
more law enforcement officers and more prosecutors than on decades-long
legal quests to put someone to death, only to have the case reversed years
later for reasons no one can foresee today.
Brook Busbee, Dallas
(source: Letter to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)
Should murder accomplices face execution?
An execution last month in Mississippi and another scheduled for this
month in Texas have reignited a debate over whether the death penalty
should be given to those who participate in killings but do not
personally carry them out.
Dale Bishop was executed July 23 in Mississippi for his role in the 1998
murder of an acquaintance who was beaten to death with a claw hammer along
a rural road near Tupelo. But Bishop did not strike the fatal blows.
According to uncontested trial testimony, Bishop held and kicked the
victim while another man, Jessie Johnson, fatally attacked him with the
hammer. Johnson is serving a life sentence without parole.
Demonstrators outside the Alamo in San Antonio protest the scheduled Aug.
21 execution of Texas death-row inmate Jeffery Wood, who faces the death
penalty for a 1996 murder despite not carrying it out himself. Wood was
convicted under the states "felony murder rule," which allows some
accomplices to be prosecuted for first-degree murder.
In Texas, death-row inmate Jeffery Wood this month also could be executed
for a murder he did not commit. Wood is scheduled to die Aug. 21 in
connection with the 1996 shooting of a convenience store clerk about 100
miles west of Austin, but according to undisputed court testimony, he was
sitting in a pickup truck outside the store when the murder occurred.
Daniel Reneau, who shot and killed the clerk, was executed by Texas in
2002 for the murder.
Bishop and Wood both were convicted under little-known state laws that
allow accomplices in some felonies that result in murder to be prosecuted
as killers even if they were not directly responsible for killing anyone.
The laws are part of a broader legal principle in the United States known
as the felony murder rule, which also allows those who unintentionally
kill someone during serious felonies to be charged with first-degree
murder, instead of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. All but
four states Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio have some version of the
felony murder rule, according to a February analysis commissioned by the
Connecticut General Assembly.
DEATH FOR NON-KILLERS?
The following states allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for those
not directly responsible for murder:
[source: Death Penalty Information Center]
Of the 46 states with the felony murder rule, 24 allow prosecutors to use
it to seek the death penalty for those not directly responsible for
murder, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit
organization that opposes capital punishment.
But the center says it is very rare for states to execute accomplices: by
its tally, Bishop became only the 8th person in the past 30 years and the
first since 1996 to be put to death for a murder he did not commit or
order (such as commissioned killings, which are counted separately). Wood,
in Texas, would become the ninth.
Civil libertarians, trial lawyers and others have attacked the felony
murder rule as an egregious example of unequal justice particularly when
it involves the ultimate punishment for accomplices. While the U.S.
Supreme Court in the 1980s upheld the death penalty for accomplices if
they intended their crimes to result in death or displayed "reckless
indifference to human life," critics of the rule say it is often
impossible to know the intentions of criminals and that it can result in
overly tough sentences. Murder accomplices like Bishop, they say, should
never receive tougher penalties than those actually responsible for
But supporters of the rule say states should be authorized to execute
felons who knowingly participated in dangerous crimes in which death is a
likely and often foreseeable outcome, such as burglary, robbery and rape.
Many backers say it can serve as a deterrent to committing such crimes.
In Texas, lawyers are frantically trying to persuade the state Board of
Pardons and Paroles and Gov. Rick Perry (R) to spare Wood, who had no
prior criminal record. His legal team contends that he has "emotional and
psychological impairments" that prevented him from receiving a fair
sentence, noting that he did not challenge the death penalty during the
punishment phase of his trial.
Wood's lawyers also are comparing his case to that of Kenneth Foster,
another Texas murder accomplice who was scheduled to be executed last
year. In that case, Perry took the highly unusual step of commuting
Fosters sentence to life without parole, expressing concern that Foster
had been tried simultaneously with his co-defendant, who actually
committed the murder.
Scott Cobb, director of the anti-death penalty Texas Moratorium Network
and an organizer of public rallies in support of Wood and against the
state's felony murder rule, said he hopes authorities will spare the
inmate. He said he is encouraged because Perry has proven to be "in tune
with public opinion, and he's aware that public opinion doesnt support
killing someone who has such a diminished role as an accomplice."
But others are pushing for the execution to proceed. The prosecutor who
won the capital conviction against Wood, Kerr County Assistant District
Attorney Lucy Wilke, has petitioned the state Board of Pardons and Paroles
to deny his request for commutation, calling Wood the "mastermind" of the
convenience store robbery and murder.
In Mississippi, the debate over the felony murder rule reached a new pitch
last month ahead of Bishop's execution, particularly as critics of the law
pointed out that the actual murderer in the case was spared from the death
chamber. Bishop's execution drew national attention for that reason, and
even crime-novel author John Grisham weighed in.
"He should be given life without parole in a maximum-security unit, and
perhaps he could serve his time with the man who pulled the trigger,"
Grisham said in a statement on his Web site.
The debate in Mississippi was further complicated by Gov. Haley Barbour's
(R) highly controversial decision last month to release a convicted
killer, Michael Graham, whose good behavior behind bars earned him the
right to work as a "trustee" at the governor's mansion. Capital punishment
opponents and others lambasted Barbour for granting a reprieve to Graham
who shot his wife to death in 1989 while refusing one for Bishop.
"The juxtaposition of one man who did not kill being executed and another
man who did kill being pardoned just stuck in people's craw," said Warren
Yoder, executive director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi.
But Pete Smith, a spokesman for Barbour, stressed that the governor
neither pardoned Graham nor commuted his sentence. "What he did," Smith
said in a telephone interview with Stateline.org, "was issue an indefinite
suspension of the sentence" that can be revoked anytime Graham violates
the conditions of his release. Smith said the governor, a capital
punishment supporter, had no comment on his refusal to spare Bishop.
Beyond Mississippi and Texas, disagreement over the felony murder rule
persists, with grassroots organizations calling for changes in the law,
especially after tough sentences draw public attention.
In Florida, for example, the case of 25-year-old Ryan Holle has served as
a rallying cry for opponents of the rule. Holle is serving a life sentence
without parole for loaning his car to a friend in 2003; along with 3 other
men, the friend drove the car to a house where one of them murdered an
But many prosecutors and victims advocates say cases like Holles are far
from the norm, and they argue that the felony murder rule is an important
tool allowing prosecutors to punish criminals who participate in
exceptionally dangerous crimes.
"What do you think is going to happen when a guy goes into a convenience
store to rob it and hes armed with a gun, and your job is to help him
commit that crime?" said Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the
National Center for Victims of Crime. "It's a very high-risk activity."
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Is 30 Years Too Long On Texas Death Row?
Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of an Investigators
story that aired on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m.
Tonight, Local 2 Investigates digs into the case of an inmate from Houston
who has been on death row for more than 30 years. So why hasn't Raymond
Riles been executed?
When you read and hear his first TV interview in more than 20 years, you
may understand why.
His case has sparked a debate of what to do with inmates spending decades
waiting for an execution. Local 2 investigative reporter Amy Davis
uncovers why Riles' case could change the future of Texas' death row.
"They told me they were going to kill me unless I stopped preaching my
mystic gospel," Riles told us during an interview from death row at the
Polunsky Unit in Livingston. "God is the greatest and I didn't come to die
on death row."
As Riles speaks, you're almost able to read his mind -- by not
"They're trying to silence me because I know about the satanic secret
societies of the TDC shadow government e-system," said Riles.
His mind appears mixed-up, full of delusions and paranoia. This is the
latest chapter of Riles' story -- 33 years of crime and punishment.
Riles committed his crime back in 1974. He was convicted of killing
Houston used-car salesman John Henry during a 1974 robbery. A Harris
County jury sentenced Riles to death.
But 33 years later, Riles still waits on death row with no execution date
and no plans for one.
"It's because he's incompetent to be executed," explained Roe Wilson, an
assistant district attorney for Harris County.
Wilson handles death row appeals and says Riles case is that simple.
Mental health experts have ruled Riles doesn't understand why his
execution is imminent, or understand exactly why he's being executed. That
makes him mentally incompetent, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"If you don't meet the standard, then you cannot be legally executed,"
During our interview, Riles told us he believes God committed his crime,
thinks he was chosen to release men from death row, and believes a lethal
injection would not kill him.
Riles also blamed God for his prison suicide attempt in 1985. Riles set
himself on fire in his cell.
"God did that," said Riles. "God consumed me in fire."
In 1986, Riles was inches from the death chamber in Huntsville and just
minutes from execution. That's when a federal court issued a last-minute
stay. It was the 4th time the state scheduled Riles' execution. A new date
hasn't been scheduled for the past 22 years.
"As long as he's living, I'm still living," said Helen Riles, Raymond
Riles' sister. "We're still living."
Helen Riles spoke to us from her Houston home. She's calls her brother's
three decades on death row "bittersweet."
While Raymond Riles hasn't been executed, Helen Riles is fighting to get
her brother off of death row and into a mental health facility instead.
"I don't think he could ever come all the way back," said Helen Riles. "I
really don't. But he would able to feel more comfortable and get more
And that's the debate. If an inmate can't be executed, should he or she
remain on death row?
A new call is coming from a nationwide association of attorneys, death
penalty opponents, and a U.S. group of mental health experts to change the
way mentally ill inmates are treated on death row.
They all say a life sentence is more appropriate.
"It makes no sense for the state to keep someone on death row under severe
conditions, when he's been recognized as severely ill," said Kristin
Houle', with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin.
On death row, all inmates spend 23 hours a day in their cell.
Houle' calls that cruel and unusual punishment for the mentally ill,
claiming it gives inmates little access to psychiatric care.
The state disagrees.
"That really is not a factor in this case," said Wilson. "What the factor
is, is that (Riles) was competent when he was tried and given a legal
sentence. His confinement is still legal and he simply has a condition
right now that makes him not eligible for execution. But that could
That's right. Wilson says Riles is still periodically tested by doctors.
His mental state and his future could always change.
Right now, Texas law doesn't allow a death sentence to be replaced by a
Wilson argues Riles' punishment stands, no matter what his mental state is
now. Many call that justice for the victims.
So, at age 58, Raymond Riles remains on death row -- 33 years and
counting. His family and activists say they'll continue to work to change
the law that keeps him there.
"I'm not just going to let him sit there and not fight for him," Helen
Courts and doctors have ruled five other death row inmates from Harris
County are also mentally incompetent to be executed. Any change in Riles'
case or state law could have a direct effect on many Texas inmates.
However, those inmates are all tested periodically. If they are ruled
competent at any time, an execution date can be scheduled.