Execution set for 'Texas 7' escapee

The 47-year-old inmate was sent to death row in 2003, after being part of one of the largest prison escapes in Texas history


By Joseph Brown
The Huntsville Item, Texas

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A member of the notorious ‘Texas 7’ prison escape is scheduled to be executed this week, amidst appeals for clemency, a federal lawsuit and requested for a reprieve from the Governor.

Joseph Garcia is scheduled to die at the Huntsville “Walls” Unit on Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The 47-year-old inmate was sent to death row in 2003, after being part of one of the largest prison escapes in Texas history, which left a law enforcement officer dead.

A prison guard stands on a tower at the Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas, is seen at sunset Monday, Jan. 22, 2001. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
A prison guard stands on a tower at the Connally Unit near Kenedy, Texas, is seen at sunset Monday, Jan. 22, 2001. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

According to pleas from defense attorney’s, Garcia was convicted to death under the law of parties—the law allowing conviction based on the acts and intents of others—and treated the ‘Texas 7’ as a “single unit.”

Now, nearly two decades after the escape, Garcia’s lawyers were hoping to stall the execution with a plea for clemency to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles along with a federal lawsuit filed against that same board.

The TBPP Board denied the clemency plea on Friday, but are still facing a federal lawsuit filed against them by Garcia’s attorneys. The suit was seeking to prevent the board from making a decision until a “more representative set of members can be appointed.” According to the suit, the board is “stacked with individuals whose background places them firmly on the side of the State and law enforcement.” There are currently two former TDCJ members on the board, but the suit claims that seven of the eight members on the board have backgrounds in law enforcement.

According to state law, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can have only three former TDCJ employees at any given time.

Garcia’s attorneys are also asking for a reprieve from Governor Greg Abbott in light of recent reporting regarding the source of the state’s execution drug pentobarbital.

BuzzFeed News reported late Wednesday, citing unidentified documents, that a Houston compounding pharmacy is believed to be one of the two that mixes up the lethal drug used in the Huntsville death chamber. The state has previously confirmed that it uses a compounded form of the powerful barbiturate, which indicates that TDCJ is turning to a compounding pharmacy to mix up the drugs — as opposed to getting them directly from a drug manufacturer.

“The fact that Texas may be relying on a compounding pharmacy for pentobarbital, which is a sterile injectable, subjects our client, Joseph Garcia, to the unreasonable risk of a cruel execution,” Garcia’s defense lawyers wrote in the letter to the governor.

As of Friday evening, no details on the federal court ruling or the Governor’s ruling have been released.

Background of crime

On December 13, 2000 seven inmates escaped from the Connally Unit in Kenedy. The inmates — George Rivas, Larry Harper, Donald Newbury, Randy Halprin, Michael Rodriguez, Patrick Henry Murphy and Garcia — were all serving long sentences for violent crimes. At the time of the escape, Garcia was serving a 50-year murder sentence out of Bexar County, where he was sentenced for stabbing a man at least a dozen times.

According to court records, the prison escape began during lunch when six of the seven escapees subdued 14 employees and inmates and stuffed them in an electrical room. Two of the inmates — identified as Murphy and Harper — later showed up at the back gate and overpowered the guard. From there, the seven stole a variety of firearms and ammunition and fled the prison in a stolen vehicle.

Court records indicate that the group then fled to Irving where they robbed Oshman’s Supersports on Dec. 24. It was during the robbery that Officer Aubrey Hawkins was shot and killed. Hawkins was shot multiple times after a gunfight with the escapees.

The seven escapees then fled to Colorado and were captured a little less than a month later. Harper committed suicide before being taken, while the others were brought back to Texas to face criminal trials.

Garcia is set to be the fourth of the group to be executed by the state of Texas and 12th inmate executed by the state of Texas this year. Halprin and Murphy are still on death row at the Polunsky Unit in West Livingston.

©2018 The Huntsville Item (Huntsville, Texas)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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