Widow of executed inmate speaks out
The widow of a police officer murdered by infamous prison gang "Texas 7" has revealed her pain as the fourth member was executed by lethal injection.
Joseph Garcia, 47, was part of the biggest prison breakout in the state's history before embarking on a holiday season crime spree that left a Dallas police officer dead.
One gang member killed himself before he could be arrested while two more remain on death row.
Lori O'Ferrell Acosta told news.com.au the death penalty was justice for her late husband, Aubrey Hawkins.
"Garcia is nothing different from the rest of the members of said 'gang', they are all murderers, child abusers and plagues to society," she said. "He gunned down my husband.
"I've moved on with my life; so has his son. With that dark shadow above.
"He would hate his son grew up without him. Aubrey's death has been detrimental to our family.
"He'd be so exhausted, tired of this fight, wanting all to pay for their crimes."
She chose not to watch the execution, writing on Facebook that Garcis was a "rabid animal" who "doesn't deserve to take away another day of my life."
This wasn't over yet, she added. "We have two more to go."
The US Supreme Court rejected the final appeals by Garcia's lawyers - in which they argued had not fired the fatal shot - and he was put to death on Tuesday night at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.
Garcia, then 29, was serving a 50-year sentence for fatally stabbing a man during an argument when he became part of the escape plot in 2000. The gang of seven spent months carefully plotting the breakout from the maximum security Connally Unit in Karnes County, about 100 kilometres south of San Antonio.
On December 13, Garcia, Randy Halprin, Larry Harper, Patrick Murphy Jr, Donald Newbury, George Rivas, and Michael Rodriguez made their sensational escape.
'YOU HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST OF US'
Rivas, was already serving 17 life sentences, was the ringleader. He masterminded the audacious plan to overpower a supervisor and tie up civilian workers as hostages.
Two of the gang dressed up as prison workers to sneak into the armoury, where they overpowered another employee and took control of the guard tower.
The gang loaded a maintenance truck and with guns and workers' clothes before making their getaway, leaving a note warning: "You haven't heard the last of us yet."
After two robberies in the Houston area, they headed north as a massive police manhunt got underway by road and helicopter.
On Christmas Eve, the escapees posed as security guards, holding up a sporting goods store in Irving, northwest of Dallas, stealing $95,000, 44 guns and winter clothing. They also took jewellery and wallets from staff who were closing up for the night.
As they were leaving, they were approached by local police officer Hawkins. The inmates surrounded his police car and shot him 11 times before pulling him out of the vehicle and running over his body in their stolen SUV as they left.
The gang fled to Colorado, but after they were featured on America's Most Wanted almost a month later, tip-offs from the public led police to the fugitives.
Five of them were found posing as Christian missionaries at a trailer park, having tried to disguise their appearance, with one dying his hair blond and another orange-red.
Locals in Woodland Park said they had heard the gang blasting Christian rock music. One woman told CNN she had been to church with one of the escapees, who said his name was Jim and he was travelling with friends. She described him as well-groomed and said he seemed like a clean-cut college student.
Garcia, Rivas, Halprin and Rodriguez were captured by a SWAT team at the trailer park. Harper, a convicted rapist, shot himself in the chest himself before the authorities could take him back into custody.
Three days later, with the reward for their capture reaching $680,000, police arrested Newbury and Murphy at a Holiday Inn in Colorado Springs. Twelve loaded firearms were found in their hotel room.
'I AM READY TO GO'
The gang were all sent to death row.
Rodriguez, who was originally serving a life sentence for arranging his wife's murder, was the first to be executed in 2008, after the 45-year-old ordered all his appeals dropped.
With his last breath before receiving the lethal injection, he apologised repeatedly for his crimes.
"My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I've brought you," he said. "I'm not strong enough to ask for forgiveness because I don't know if I am worthy.
"I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I've done horrible things that brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people," he added, looking directly at his former sister-in-law and the Officer Hawkins' widow.
Rivas, 41, was put to death in 2012. His last words were an apology to the slain officer's family. "I do apologise for everything that happened, not because I am here, but for closure in your hearts," he said. "I am ready to go."
Newbury, who was originally serving 99 years for a series of armed robberies, was executed in 2015. The 52-year-old had faced a string of disciplinary cases while on death row, including assaulting corrections officers, possessing weapons and rioting.
In a 2003 interview with The Associated Press, Newbury said he would still escape if he could do it all over again. "I had 99 years," he said. "What did I have to lose?"
Former Dallas County District Attorney Toby Shook, the lead prosecutor on the Texas 7 case, said Newbury "really likes coming across as the bad outlaw."
Halprin, 41, and Murphy, 57, do not have execution dates and remain on death row in Texas.
Garcia's lawyers campaigned hard to stall his death, arguing that problems with the lethal drug compound meant "unreasonable risk of a cruel execution".
The death-row inmate always claimed he was still inside the building during the shooting of Officer Hawkins, but the state convicted him under the "law of parties", a statute that holds non-shooters responsible for killings they could have anticipated.
He also maintained the stabbing attack he was originally jailed for was self-defence.
"He didn't do anything violent or prepare or encourage anybody else to do anything violent," said one of his lawyers, J Stephen Cooper.
But Mr Shook said: "He was up to his ears in murder and mayhem out there. He was actively participating in everything."
He told the Houston Chronicle the hostages during the prison breakout "described him as one of the more violent ones, who made threats and went out of his way to frighten them."
The prosecutor said that at some point, one of the other men claimed Garcia did fire the fatal shot.
Garcia is the 12th prisoner put to death this year in Texas. The state has by far the most executions in the United States, with 557 inmates put to death since 1976.
- With wires