death penalty news—-TEXAS

June 5


Notorious 'Texas 7' Try to Save One of Their Own By Insulting Him

The last time the Texas 7 were together, their crime spree claimed a life.
Last week, members of the group came together to try to save one.

Randy Halprin was one of the 7 escaped convicts who robbed an Irving
Oshman's SuperSports store on Christmas Eve 2000. Halprin carried a gun,
had a codename and carried stolen rifles to the getaway car.

Around 6:30 p.m., toward the end of the heist, Irving police Officer
Aubrey Hawkins arrived on the scene after responding to a "suspicious
activity" call. He was then shot 11 times before his lifeless body was
dragged from his patrol car and run over by the fugitives as they fled in
a Ford Explorer.

That is what we know for sure.

What remains in dispute, at least in the eyes of Dallas criminal defense
attorneys Bruce Anton and Gary Udashen, is just how culpable Halprin was
in Hawkins' death.

The Texas Seven had escaped from Connally Unit near Kenedy, on December
13, 2000. They proceeded to carry out 3 robberies in Texas, including the
Oshman's, before being apprehended near Colorado Springs, Colorado, in
late January 2001.

The six surviving members (Larry Harper committed suicide just before
capture) were found guilty of murdering Hawkins and were sentenced to
death by Dallas County juries. Halprin, the fifth to be tried, was
convicted of capital murder and sentenced on June 12, 2003.

Anton and Udashen recently filed an application for a writ of habeas
corpus in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Halprin's behalf. The
writ, filed after Halprin's capital murder conviction was affirmed on
direct appeal, states that "no reasonable juror could find that [Halprin]
killed, attempted to kill, or intended to kill Officer Hawkins…" They
argue that the imposition of the death penalty in Halprin's case violates
the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

On May 22, Judge Rick Magnis of the 283rd District Court of Dallas County
began hearing testimony to determine whether, based on new evidence
presented by Halprin's attorneys, Magnis should recommend to the appeals
court that it grant the writ and spare Halprin's life.

"We have strong mitigating evidence about his involvement and about the
kind of person he is, compared to the other guys. If a jury heard it, it
would be hard for them to give the death penalty," Udashen said.

Some of the new evidence is based on the testimony of three ex-Texas 7
members: Michael Rodriguez, Patrick Murphy and the mastermind of the
group, George Rivas. None of the 3 were approached by Halprin's 1st trial
team to testify on his behalf. Under direct examination by the defense,
his three ex-cohorts described Halprin as the embodiment of uselessness.
All 3 stated that Halprin's contribution to the escape was minimal with
him mostly serving as a lookout. During the three robberies, Halprin
bungled whatever assignment he was given.

Rodriguez referred to Halprin as a "180-pound child." Rivas called him an
"unnecessary weight." Murphy described him as the "low man on the totem

Each witness testified that he examined Halprin's pistol after the
shootout at Oshman's and found it had not been fired. Rivas said he
clearly remembers this because, after receiving two gunshot wounds during
the altercation, he initially believed that Halprin had shot him. He
ordered a weapons check and examined Halprin's .357 pistol. There was no
stench of gunpowder, and the smell of the gun-cleaner used on the weapon
prior to the robbery was still pungent.

Halprin also was shot during the Oshman's robbery and became so
uncooperative and lethargic, according to the testimony of the men, that
some of the gang thought about killing him. Rodriguez recalled telling
Rivas while they were hiding out in Colorado that Halprin's death might be
necessary because he was such a "nuisance and he was useless."

Rodriguez said if he could have spoken with Donald Newberry (another Texas
Seven member) before the group's capture, they would have "distributed
[Halprin] in dumpsters all around Colorado Springs."

During cross-examination, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office
attempted to portray Halprin as an integral cog in the felons' escape. The
prosecution brought up prior testimony that Halprin verbally and
physically abused Texas Department of Criminal Justice employees whom the
group had captured during its break out.

Only Rodriguez remembered Halprin physically assaulting any employees,
when Halprin tackled a field officer who entered a maintenance shed.
Prosecutors also gained admissions from the witnesses that Halprin had, in
fact, been active during at least two of the robberies, had carried a gun
during the Oshman's theft and had received an equal share of the proceeds
from each of the perpetrated crimes .

"[Halprin] was convicted as a party," Assistant District Attorney Lisa
Smith said. "You can get the death penalty as a party, so he didn't have
to shoot the weapons to get the death penalty."

The prosecution strengthened its case by undermining the credibility of
the three testifying death row inmates. Murphy admitted that he was
Halprin's father-in-law. Rodriguez first told the prosecution that he did
not want to come to Dallas to testify, that he didn't enjoy the process.
But then Smith showed him an entry from Halprin's online diary. The entry
described a meeting between Halprin and Rodriguez in which Rodriguez had
told the defendant about a prior time he testified in Dallas. He raved
about being able to see trees and people on the van ride north. Rodriguez
then told the court that Halprin's lawyers had assured him that testifying
for Halprin would result in another trip to Dallas. That has not yet
proven to be the case.

Rivas, responding to questions posed by Judge Magnis, admitted to feeling
responsible and guilty for Halprin being condemned to death. "They showed
their true colors, who they really are," Smith said. "They're a team;
they'll always be a team. Together until the end." Last week's hearing
marked the 1st stage in what is typically a prolonged post-conviction
process in capital cases. The court continued the hearing without setting
a new date in order to give lawyers an opportunity to further investigate
the case and present testimony.

(source: Dallas Observer)


Defendant argues self-defense on the stand in cop killing trial

Wesley Lynn Ruiz said Wednesday that he believed Dallas police Senior Cpl.
Mark Nix was going to kill him, so he "fired in his direction" out of fear
for his own life.

That single shot killed Cpl. Nix, 33, making him the 77th Dallas police
officer killed in the line of duty.

Mr. Ruiz, 28, faces the death penalty if convicted of capital murder for
gunning down Cpl. Nix. Closing arguments in the case are expected today.

Until Mr. Ruiz's testimony during the defense phase of his capital murder
trial, Cpl. Nix's family, jurors and others in the courtroom had only the
perspective of police officers about what happened that night in March
2007 when the officer was killed.

Mr. Ruiz was on probation for possession of a controlled substance and had
not been reporting to his probation officer. The gun and methamphetamine
in the back seat of the gray and red Chevrolet Caprice he was driving were
probation violations that could have sent him to prison.

So when officers tried to pull him over, he fled. After a short chase
through West Dallas, Mr. Ruiz spun out, and the Caprice was blocked in by
police cars.

There in the retelling, Mr. Ruiz lost his calm. His voice broke, and he
choked out the words.

"I saw a cop car pull up. He jumped out of the car, and he had his gun
pulled out," Mr. Ruiz said. "He started yelling and threatening me. He
said, 'You tried to run from me, [expletive]. I'm going to shoot you.'

"He ran at my car with his gun, and then I heard gunshots. I figured they
came from him. I saw glass flying in my car," said Mr. Ruiz, as his face
crumbled but no tears showed.

So, Mr. Ruiz said, he reached into his back seat and pulled a
semi-automatic gun out of a gym bag.

"I pulled the gun out of the seat. I pointed it in his direction, and I
fired the gun," Mr. Ruiz said, claiming self-defense.

Mr. Ruiz said he saw Cpl. Nix fall down. Then another bullet came into the
car, hit him in the face and knocked him out, he said. In court, Mr. Ruiz
pointed to his right cheek to show where he was hit.

Mr. Ruiz was shot 9 times, all superficial wounds, according to testimony
heard earlier this week. Both of his arms were broken, and he had a broken
bone in his hand.

Dallas police officers have testified that no one fired a shot at the
Caprice until after Cpl. Nix was shot.

Video from a camera on the police car's dash played in court showed the
shooting. But there is a dispute between the prosecutors and defense
attorneys about whether a blemish in the front windshield of the Caprice
is a gunshot or a shadow from an overhead tree.

When prosecutor Kevin Brooks asked Mr. Ruiz about his actions that day,
Mr. Ruiz's calm returned.

"So you confessed to shooting and killing a Dallas police officer?" Mr.
Brooks asked.

"I don't know if I killed him," Mr. Ruiz said.

"You knew when Cpl. Nix got out of his vehicle that he was a Dallas police
officer?" Mr. Brooks asked.

"Yes, sir," Mr. Ruiz said.

"You knew when you pulled that trigger that you were shooting at a Dallas
police officer?" Mr. Brooks asked.

"Yes, sir." But it was in self-defense, Mr. Ruiz said.

(source: Dallas Morning News)