Man executed despite never firing shot during robbery

Recent execution renews calls for change in Law of Parties

SAN ANTONIO – The execution of Joseph Garcia earlier this month has death penalty opponents again calling for the Texas Law of Parties to be modified to exclude capital murder cases.

Garcia, a member of the Texas 7 prison gang, was given the death penalty for the murder of an Irving police officer who was shot and killed during the Christmas Eve 1999 robbery of a sporting goods store.

Gang member George Rivas, who has also been executed, admitted firing the shots that killed Officer Aubry Hawkins when Hawkins surprised the gang outside the store.

Though Garcia and other gang members were inside the store at the time of the shooting, they were convicted of capital murder under the Law of Parties.

“I think it goes too far,” said San Antonio defense attorney Mark Stevens.  “It’s one thing to put somebody in prison, as a party but to execute them -  the ultimate punishment – does bother people.”

Though Stevens was not involved in the Garcia case, he is opposed to the death penalty.

According to the Law of Parties ,“All conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed though having no intent to commit it if the offense was committed in the furtherance of the unlawful purpose and one that should have been anticipated.”

Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” La Hood said, “I think it’s a good law.”

And he agreed with the law’s application in the Garcia case.

“There was foreseeability and there was furtherance of the crime by all of them,” La Hood said. “”They knew that there was a weapon that could take someone’s life so that was the foreseeability issue of it.”

“I think it is a good law, in general,” Stevens said. “But it should be amended when it comes to death penalty cases to make only the actual killer eligible for execution.”

Changing the law would be up to the Texas Legislature, and Stevens isn’t optimistic.

He said, “Legislators are famously afraid of appearing soft on crime.”

Though the measure has failed to gain any traction in past legislative sessions, Stevens said he anticipates that it will come up during the session which begins in January.  

About the Author:

Paul Venema is a courthouse reporter for KSAT with more than 25 years experience in the role.