Texas Murderer Becomes 2nd to Be Executed by U.S. in 8 Days
Asking forgiveness, convicted murderer and drug lord Juan Raul Garza on Tuesday morning became the second man in eight days to die at the hands of the federal government, which had not carried out any executions in nearly four decades.
“I just want to say that I’m sorry and I apologize for all the pain and grief that I have caused,” he said, uttering his last words after he was strapped onto the gurney in the execution chamber at the U.S. prison in Terre Haute, Ind. “I ask for your forgiveness, and God bless.”
Garza, 44, of Brownsville, Texas, was given a lethal injection in the same room where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh was executed June 11. But unlike McVeigh, Garza was repentant and had desperately fought for his life through a string of legal appeals.
Those appeals ended, however, when the White House and the Supreme Court refused Monday to delay his death or commute his sentence to life in prison. Garza and his lawyers had argued that the federal death penalty is being levied unfairly against minorities and that his death violated an international treaty because he was originally arrested in Mexico, which does not practice capital punishment.
Garza’s life ended at 7:09 a.m. local time, when prison Warden Harley Lappin announced that a series of three drugs had rendered him unconscious and stopped his heart.
“He was cooperative throughout the entire process,” Lappin said.
Outside the prison, about 50 anti-death penalty protesters prayed and sang, and Garza’s lawyers decried the fact that the U.S. government has joined 38 states in carrying out the ultimate criminal penalty.
“Today, we bear witness to the expanding circle of violence and victims that the death penalty creates: Juan Garza’s execution has left his children fatherless,” said his attorney Gregory Wiercioch.
“I do not have an answer when I am asked about the families devastated by Juan Garza’s crimes,” Wiercioch said. “But I do know that justice does not demand death.”
Government officials, most notably U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, argued that Garza brazenly ran a marijuana smuggling operation out of the Rio Grande Valley, ordered the murders of two colleagues and personally killed another, shooting him five times in the head and neck.
Garza, a U.S. citizen who grew up in a family of migrant workers, also was implicated in a series of slayings in Mexico.
Ashcroft said there was “no doubt” that Garza was guilty and matched the profile of a drug kingpin who supervised a continuing criminal enterprise, all components of the federal death penalty act.
Eighteen men remain under federal death sentences, but no more executions are likely soon.
The nearest to death may be David Paul Hammer, an Oklahoman who killed his cellmate in a federal prison in Pennsylvania. Last year, Hammer dropped his legal appeals and asked to die, then changed his mind and was permitted to carry on his fight in the courts. His execution is now believed to be at least a year away.
For his last meal Monday, Garza requested and was served a steak, French fries, onion rings, three slices of bread and a soft drink.
On Tuesday morning, about an hour and a half before his death, he met for 30 minutes with a Catholic priest, the Rev. Ron Ashmore of Terre Haute, and the priest later witnessed the execution from a window in an adjoining room; they could see one another.
Media witnesses who watched Garza die said the execution went much as it did for McVeigh.
He died with his eyes open but his head tilted slightly to the side. His feet twitched, perhaps nervously, underneath a large white sheet that covered him from the shoulders down. Otherwise he did not move and appeared calm.
Only about 70 media credentials were handed out for Garza’s execution, far fewer than the 1,400 issued for McVeigh. There was no media encampment of tents and satellite trucks as showed up for McVeigh.
In addition to his final regrets, Garza also had videotaped a confession that was provided to both the Clinton and Bush White Houses, neither of which did anything to spare his life.
“We have someone here who expressed remorse for his crimes,” Wiercioch said. “He’s not a threat to anyone.”
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