HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) – A member of the notorious "Texas 7" gang of escaped prisoners was executed Tuesday evening for the fatal shooting of a suburban Dallas police officer during a Christmas Eve robbery nearly 18 years ago.
Joseph Garcia received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the December 2000 shooting death of 29-year-old Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins.
Asked by the warden if he had a final statement, Garcia replied: "Yes, sir."
"Dear heavenly Father, please forgive them, for they know not what they do," Garcia said.
He then paused, for nearly a minute, before speaking again as the muffled revving of motorcycles ridden by a group of bikers who support police could be heard inside the death chamber.
"To some of you," Garcia said, pausing again as the lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital apparently had already started.
"They've already started and I ain't even finished," he said.
He gasped three times and snored twice before all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m.
Garcia, 47, became the 22nd inmate put to death this year in the U.S. and the 12th given lethal injection in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.
Garcia, who was serving a 50-year sentence for murder, was among a group of inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison that month and committed numerous robberies, including the one in which they shot Hawkins 11 times, killing him.
Hawkins had just finished Christmas Eve dinner with his family when he responded to the call about the robbery at a sporting goods store and was ambushed.
The escaped inmates were eventually arrested in Colorado, ending a six-week manhunt. One of them killed himself as officers closed in and the other six were convicted of killing Hawkins and sentenced to death.
"We didn't just lose Aubrey. His wife, his son, his mom, all of his family lost Aubrey, but so did the Irving Police Department. We’re a blue family and we felt that loss," said Chief Jeff Spivey, of the Irving Police Department, who was the lead detective in Hawkins' murder.
Garcia was the fourth of the group put to death. Two others remain on death row.
Garcia's attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution, arguing he never fired his gun at Hawkins or intended to kill him. One of his lawyers, J. Stephen Cooper, said prosecutors didn't have any information that showed his client was one of the shooters.
"He didn't do anything violent or prepare or encourage anybody else to do anything violent," Cooper said.
The high court rejected Garcia's appeals Tuesday evening.
Garcia was convicted under Texas' law of parties, in which a person can be held responsible for another individual's crime if he or she assisted or attempted to help in the commission of that crime.
At the time of the prison break, Garcia was serving time for the slaying of Miguel Luna in San Antonio. Luna's parents and his three daughters were among witnesses to Garcia's execution, along with two friends of Hawkins. They did not make themselves available to reporters following the punishment.
Toby Shook, the lead prosecutor who handled Garcia's case and the five others who were tried, said that while authorities couldn't narrow down which escaped inmate used which gun to shoot Hawkins, the inmates acted as a team to commit the robbery and the officer's murder.
Shook said Garcia's case is a clear example of why the law of parties is needed in certain cases.
"He was up to his ears in murder and mayhem out there. He was actively participating in everything," said Shook, now a defense attorney in Dallas.
Shook said Garcia's execution will be another step to getting closure for Hawkins' family and law enforcement.
"Ultimately, we can finally close the book on them when the punishments are all completed," he said.
When Joseph Garcia and six other inmates escaped from the Texas Department of Corrections Connally Unit in Kenedy on Dec. 13, 2000, he was serving a 50-year sentence for a murder in San Antonio.
Joey Contreras, who is now a state district court judge, was the prosecutor in Garcia's trial.
"What I remember about Joseph Garcia is his arrogance," Contreras said. "It was off the charts."
When he learned of the 2000 escape, Contreras said, "I thought, 'This is not good. If he wants to even the score, I could very well be at the top of his list.'"
Getting revenge on Contreras was apparently not on Garcia's mind when he and the other inmates escaped following an elaborate scheme, which included taking weapons from the prison and driving off in a prison truck.
In the days that followed, the escapees pulled off two robberies in Houston before heading toward Dallas.
On Christmas Eve, they robbed an Irving sporting goods store, where they got away with 44 weapons and $70,000 in cash.
As the fugitives fled, they were confronted by Irving police officer Aubry Hawkins.
The gang's ringleader, George Rivas, admitted he shot and killed Hawkins. Rivas has been executed for the slaying.
The escapees were charged with capital murder under the law of parties, which allows for a person to be held criminally responsible for the acts of another if they were involved in the same criminal transaction.
"Whose bullet hit that police officer doesn't mean a hill of beans to anybody," Contreras said.
The gang was captured Jan. 22, 2001, in Colorado, where one of the escapees, Larry Harper, took his own life before the rest were taken into custody.
The remaining escapees were tried and convicted of capital murder under the law of parties.
Garcia, in his appeals that followed, claimed that the law was unconstitutional.
"This is a bad case to challenge the law of parties," Contreras said. "When you have seven dangerous, violent people escape from prison and go on a national crime spree and an officer is dead, he doesn't make a case for doing away with the law of parties."
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and denied Garcia's appeal.
Garcia, 47, would be the fourth member of the "Texas 7" to be executed and the 12th inmate to be executed in Texas this year.