Mike Graczyk / AP

Texas inmate executed for killing man in $8 robbery

Juan Martin Garcia was put to death amid a national conversation over the shortage and use of lethal injection drugs

Texas on Tuesday executed death row inmate Juan Martin Garcia for killing another man in a robbery that yielded just $8. The execution comes amid a national conversation over the shortage and use of lethal injection drugs.

Garcia was convicted of capital murder for the September 1998 murder and robbery of Hugo Solano, a Christian missionary from Mexico who had moved his family to Houston just weeks earlier so that his children could be educated in the United States.

Garcia, who acknowledged shooting Solano and is linked to a string of aggravated robberies and two attempted murders, insisted he had been unfairly penalized because he didn't take the witness stand in his own defense at trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Garcia's case in March. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a 5-2 vote, refused a clemency request from Garcia last week.

Garcia, 35, apologized to Solano's relatives in Spanish ahead of the execution. Solano's wife and daughter sobbed and told the inmate they loved him.

"The harm that I did to your dad and husband -- I hope this brings you closure," he said. "I never wanted to hurt any of you all."

He told his sister and several friends in English that he loved them. "No matter what, remember my promise," Garcia said. "No matter what, I will always be with you."

As the dose of pentobarbital began to flow, he winced, raised his head and then shook it. He gurgled once and snored once before his movement stopped. He was pronounced dead 12 minutes later, at 6:26 p.m. CDT.

Solano's wife, Ana, and her daughter raised their arms in an apparent prayer inside a death chamber witness room. Afterward, Ana Solano said she wished the execution had not taken place and that she accepted Garcia's apology because it came "from his heart."

She said a person deserves to survive so they can share what they learn from their mistakes with others in similar situations. "It's about God. It's about Jesus," she said.

Garcia's death by lethal injection in Huntsville was the 11th this year in Texas — and the 529th execution in the state since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 — the most of any state.

Texas is expected to execute three more inmates in coming weeks. State authorities earlier this year told reporters that they did not have enough lethal injection drugs to carry out all the executions scheduled — an announcement hailed by death penalty opponents as a sign that the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to disavow its role in capital punishment is working. But Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) spokesman Robert Hurst on Tuesday told Al Jazeera that the state at present has “no issues” with its lethal injection drug supply. 

The TDCJ in March revealed to local newspaper The Texas Tribune that it had received 40 vials of midazolam, the controversial sedative used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29, 2014. The drug was at the heart of Supreme Court case Glossip v. Gross, which charged that the sedative had caused Lockett undue suffering that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case was dismissed in a 5-4 ruling by the justices. 

It’s unclear whether midazolam was used in Garcia’s execution on Tuesday or will be used in future cases.

Evidence at Garcia’s  2000 trial and testimony from a companion identified him as the ringleader of four men involved in the shooting and robbery of Solano. The slaying and a string of other violent crimes tied to Garcia, who was 18 at the time, convinced a jury he should be put to death.

Garcia, his two cousins and another man had already carried out a carjacking when they spotted Solano early on Sept. 17, 1998, getting into his van to go to work. Solano's relatives said the 36-year-old, who did Christian missionary work in Guadalajara, Mexico, had moved with his wife to Houston weeks earlier so their children could attend U.S. schools.

Eleazar Mendoza, who pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 55 years in prison, testified that Garcia approached Solano and pointed a gun. Mendoza said Garcia ordered Solano to surrender his money then shot him when he refused.

Garcia said Mendoza came up with the idea to rob Solano and that Solano escalated the confrontation by resisting.

"He punches me," Garcia said from prison. "First thing that came through my mind is that the dude is going to try to kill me. He grabbed the gun with both of his hands and it discharged."

Solano was shot four times in the head and neck.

Garcia was arrested more than a week later when he dropped a gun while getting out of a car that police had pulled over for a broken headlight. He was released but arrested again when the gun was linked to Solano's slaying.

Evidence and testimony tied him to at least eight aggravated robberies and two attempted capital murders in the weeks before and after Solano's death.

Another defendant, Raymond McBen, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was paroled a year ago.

The fourth man charged, Gabriel Morales, went to trial and was sentenced to life in prison on a capital murder conviction.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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