Quintero didn't expect to be spared after slaying—-He expresses regret
for killing, concern about his own safety
Almost 2 years ago, Juan Leonardo Quintero predicted in a jail house
interview that he would be sent to the death chamber for shooting Houston
police officer Rodney Johnson.
"I was wrong," he said Wednesday from a Harris County jail a day after he
was sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.
It was a verdict that outraged Johnson's family and local law enforcement
but served as a victory for death penalty opponents in a county that has
sent more people to Texas' death row than any other.
The verdict also reignited debate about illegal immigration, as Quintero
had been deported before he sneaked back into the United States.
Quintero, dressed in a yellow jumpsuit Wednesday, smiled as he responded
to questions about the verdict. But his demeanor changed when asked
whether he was happy about the jury's decision to spare his life.
"It's not anything to be happy about," he said somberly.
The 34-year-old former landscaper said he knew the sentence came as a
surprise to many people, including Johnson's family. Quintero said he
wanted to share his thoughts with Johnson's wife, Joslyn, but in a private
Joslyn Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Quintero expressed regret, as he did at the end of his trial, although he
said he was sure many doubt his sincerity.
"No matter what I say, people are going to think what they want," he said.
"Nothing I can say, nothing I can do, will fix what I've done. I'm sorry
for everything, though."
Quintero also expressed concern for his own safety and whether he would
even make it to a state prison.
"How am I going to be OK with a lot of cops around?" he asked.
During the trial, prosecutors pointed to the stoic confession he gave to a
Houston investigator after the shooting as evidence that he was a
remorseless killer. Quintero said the interview occurred a couple hours
after the shooting, and that he was afraid.
"I thought I was going to get executed right there," he said.
He still could not explain the shooting, other than to say that fear led
him to kill Johnson. He paused several moments before answering a question
about how he would live with Johnson's murder.
"I feel bad about it," Quintero said. "It's going to keep going on the
rest of my life."
Defense team praised
His life sentence continued to be a topic of discussion around the Harris
County Criminal Courthouse Wednesday and won praise for Quintero's defense
team from some local lawyers.
"The defense attorneys did a great job," said legendary defense lawyer
Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, who has practiced in Houston for 52 years.
Haynes, a death penalty opponent, said his sympathies went out to
Johnson's family, but that the verdict was justice. He credited Quintero's
attorney, Danalynn Recer.
"I'm going to write her a little note of congratulations," Haynes said.
Recer was not available for comment Wednesday.
John Jordan, one of the prosecutors in the case, said he respected the
jury's verdict, but said it doesn't represent the will of the people.
"I hope the fact that the community seems to disagree with the decision
gives some comfort to the police officers who put their lives on the line
for us every day."
Speaking about Johnson's family and fellow officers, Jordan said he was
"I wish we could have brought them justice."
While the verdict may have been shocking to some, it was not the 1st time
a person was convicted of capital murder of a peace officer has avoided
the death penalty in Harris County.
Since 1990, at least nine men have been sentenced to death in police
officer slayings. At least four others have been sentenced to life in
prison, although the law has continued to change regarding the minimum
amount of time they have to spend behind bars.
In 1992, Keith Burl Turner was sentenced to life in prison at least 35
years for shooting off-duty Harris County sheriff's deputy Jeffrey Scott
Sanford as he tried to stop a convenience store robbery. Jurors in 1994
spared the life of Edward John Benavides, who was convicted in the
shooting death of Pasadena police officer Les Early during a November 1993
drug raid. He will be eligible for parole in 2024.
Man Nhu Truong got life in prison instead of the death penalty for
shooting Randy Eng, an off-duty sheriff's deputy working an extra job at a
wedding reception in 1998.
In 2002, Alex Adams escaped the death chamber for the murder of HPD
officer Albert Vasquez when a mistrial was declared, resulting in an
automatic life sentence.
Truong and Adams must serve a minimum of 40 years before becoming eligible
Until 2005, punishment for a capital murder charge was death by lethal
injection or life with a possibility of parole. The Texas Legislature
voted in 2005 to take away the possibility of parole for convicted capital
DA hopefuls' views
Quintero's verdict brought mixed reactions from Harris County district
C.O. Bradford, a Democrat, disagreed with the jury's decision against
putting Quintero to death. His opponent, Republican Pat Lykos, said it was
improper for her to go that far, but said she understood the Johnson
family's disappointment with the life-without-parole sentence.
Bradford, the former Houston police chief, said the case was tailor-made
for the Texas death penalty law because of Quintero's criminal record and
the way he killed Johnson.
"If (the death penalty) is going to be utilized in Texas, I can't think of
a more appropriate case," Bradford said.
Lykos, a former judge and former police officer, said she could not
comment directly on the verdict because she remains eligible to serve as a
substitute judge in other cases.
But, she added, "I certainly sympathize with the police officer's family
and fully understand their reaction."
(source: Houston Chronicle)