death penalty news—-TEXAS

April 30


4 condemned Texas prisoners lose appeals

4 condemned prisoners lost appeals Wednesday before the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals, including a man identified as a leader of a gang
authorities said was responsible for killing six men in a robbery-shooting
spree in the Rio Grande Valley.

Humberto "Gallo" Garza, 34, acknowledged planning the robbery of a
marijuana cache from two houses separated by a dirt driveway on the same
property in Edinburg but denied being among the gunmen in the shooting
that left six victims dead.

Garza, described as a leader in a gang known as the Tri-City Bombers, or
"Bombitas," is 1 of 3 men on death row for involvement in the slayings. A
4th gang member was condemned for another shooting in 2002, four months
before the Edinburg killings, that left 4 women dead.

In all, 13 men were indicted for the January 2003 massacre. The victims
were identified as members of a rival gang, the Texas Chicano Brotherhood.

Others who moved closer to execution after being turned down by the court
Wednesday were:

-Barney Ronald Fuller Jr., of Houston County in East Texas, convicted of
the fatal shootings of a man and woman who were his neighbors.

-Chris Wayne Shuffield, of Bowie County in far northeast Texas, condemned
for a fatal shooting and robbery.

-Rodrigo Hernandez, convicted of the rape-slaying of a San Antonio woman
whose murder went unsolved for 8 years.

In the Rio Grande Valley case, Garza in his appeal unsuccessfully raised
33 points of error from his 2005 trial on 2 counts of capital murder.
Defense attorneys argued Garza at most was guilty of aggravated robbery. A
jury found him guilty of 1 count of capital murder and 1 count of murder.

Among claims in his appeal were that he was subjected to unconstitutional
double jeopardy, that jury instructions were improper, that his legal help
was ineffective, that the judge was biased against him and that evidence
didn't support the jury's verdict that Garza would be a future danger. The
future danger question is posed to jurors deciding on a death sentence.

Evidence showed Garza's record included an attempted murder and burglary
conviction that got him an 18-year prison sentence. He was paroled in
April 2002 after serving 10 years. The Edinburg shootings occurred 9
months later.

None of the prisoners who lost their appeals Wednesday has an execution
date. They all can appeal to the federal courts.

Fuller, 49, is awaiting lethal injection for the 2003 shootings of Annette
Copland, 39, and her husband, Nathan, 43, both of Lovelady. The couple's
14-year-old son also was wounded. The gunfire was the climax of escalating
problems between the neighbors.

Fuller was arrested after a standoff with police. He pleaded guilty to
capital murder and the jury decided he should be given the death sentence.
Among his 44 points of trial error in his appeal, all rejected by the
court, were claims that his trial court lacked authority to impose the
death sentence because there was no jury verdict form finding him guilty.

Shuffield, 28, challenged the validity of his conviction and sentence for
the 2001 shooting death of Lance Luke Walker, 36. He was shot at least 3
times and his truck was taken from his home. Shuffield confessed to the
slaying. His defense at his trial was the charge should have been murder
and not capital murder.

Hernandez, 34, was arrested in 2002, more than eight years after the body
of Susan Verstegen was found stuffed into a 55-gallon drum behind a church
in San Antonio.

Hernandez was about to be released from a Michigan prison when a then new
law there required him to submit a DNA sample as a condition of his
release. San Antonio police, using a national DNA database, matched his
DNA to the Verstegen slaying. In his appeal, Hernandez challenged the
validity of his conviction and sentence.

(source: Associated Press)