Texas to execute inmate after lethal injection stocks replenished

Manuel Garza Jr. execution for police officer’s killing comes amid scramble for death penalty drugs

Manuel Garza Jr.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice / AP

A San Antonio man convicted of killing a policeman with the officer's gun 14 years ago is due to be executed Wednesday evening, after Texas authorities replenished their stock of lethal injection drugs despite pharmaceutical companies' growing unwillingness to supply them.

Manuel Garza Jr. is set to be the first inmate executed with a fresh batch of pentobarbital recently obtained by Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials. Two other executions scheduled for this month could also take place via lethal injections.

If all three take place, the state prison agency once again will have to replenish its inventory of the scarce drug or find a new drug cocktail to accommodate at least three more scheduled executions beginning in May.

Drug manufacturers, under pressure from death penalty opponents, have been increasingly withholding their products for use in capital punishment.

No last-day appeals were in the courts just hours before Garza, 35, was scheduled for lethal injection on Wednesday. The U.S. Supreme Court in November refused to review his case.

Garza already had a long criminal record when in February 2001, at age 20, he was stopped by San Antonio Police Officer John "Rocky" Riojas, 37, who was part of a team targeting property crimes.

Garza ran off, and Riojas pursued him. Riojas caught up with Garza, the two struggled, Garza grabbed Riojas' gun, and Garza fatally shot Riojas in the head. Witnesses said Garza put the gun in his pants, cursed at the fallen officer and ran away.

Garza was apprehended a day later at his sister's apartment after an informant told detectives that someone tried to sell him Riojas' missing semiautomatic service weapon.

In a statement to detectives, Garza blamed Riojas. "I truly think this was the cop's fault," Garza said. "I don't see why he wanted to pull out his gun."

He said he initially ran because he feared the officer would discover he was wanted on outstanding warrants. "I didn't want to go to jail," Garza said.

Court documents described Garza as cocky and smirking while being escorted to a holding cell after his arrest. He used obscenity-laced language to tell officers they were "lucky I didn't get y'all ... too."

Defense attorneys said the shooting was accidental and that Garza was a product of childhood neglect and abuse. In a 2013 failed appeal, attorney Michael Gross said Garza's family encouraged him to break the law.

His criminal record began at age 14 and included burglaries, thefts, escape from custody and leading police on a stolen car chase.

The San Antonio Police Officers Association was providing two buses for officers to make the 200-mile-trip to Huntsville to be present outside the prison as the execution takes place.

Al Jazeera reported last week that just before the April 9 execution of Kent Sprouse, 42, the state obtained a new batch of pentobarbital that would allow the department to carry out all executions in April.

Death penalty opponent Diann Rust-Tieney said that the scarcity of lethal injection drugs indicated the pharmaceutical market "has spoken" against the use of its product in capital punishment.

"These companies that are making the drugs that are engaged in life-affirming activities want to be associated with those things. They don’t want their product misused by departments of corrections,” she said after Sprouse’s execution. 

In 2011, Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, following cues from a British counterpart, moved to block its products from being used in the cocktail of lethal drugs administered to kill death row inmates.

The Supreme Court is set to rule later this month on whether Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, after a series of botched executions that resulted in lengthy and unnecessarily painful deaths.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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