death penalty news—-TEXAS

Aug. 17


Austin cabbies' accused killer facing death penalty—-Jury will have 2
options if Alberto Garcia is convicted in pair of 1990 slayings: life in
prison or execution.

From the time he was arrested for bringing a gun to South Austin's Fulmore
Junior High School in 1979, Alberto Garcia has been in trouble with the
law, many times being accused and convicted of robbing people at gunpoint,
according to court documents and prosecutors.

Garcia, 43, is currently serving a 26-year sentence for bank robbery and
weapons charges. But he was living free in Austin in 1990, when two taxi
drivers Eleazar Hinojosa, 57, and John Parrish, 41 were found fatally
shot in their cabs within two days in suspected robberies that shook the
community and long went unsolved.

On Monday, Garcia goes on trial for those slayings and, if convicted,
could receive the death penalty or life in prison.

Garcia's defense lawyers say he is innocent.

"He's turned down every plea bargain that they have offered him, and
they've offered him good ones," said Jon Evans, one of Garcia's lawyers.
"We think (the state's) case is going to have some problems that are going
to come out at trial."

Police have said that fingerprints found in each cab linked Garcia to the
case in 2004. Prosecutors say there is other evidence, which they declined
to disclose.

Prosecutors initially announced that Travis County District Attorney
Ronnie Earle had decided to waive the death penalty.

Then prosecutors learned that state law at the time of the killings did
not allow prosecutors to waive the death penalty in a capital murder case,
and Garcia was re-indicted on 2 murder charges. Prosecutors said they
would take him to trial on those together.

When Garcia asserted his right to have those cases tried separately,
prosecutors said it was essential to try both cases together and announced
they would take to trial the capital murder case, in which Garcia is
accused of killing more than one person pursuant to the same scheme and
course of conduct.

That put the death penalty back in play.

Assistant District Attorney Darla Davis said she and her co-counsel Beth
Payan will argue for the death penalty, despite Earle's initial decision
that it was not warranted in Garcia's case.

"The case was re-evaluated, and we looked at everything, circumstances of
the case and the history of the defendant," she said, "and it was
determined that it was an appropriate case to proceed and ask the jury for
the death penalty."

The slayings

Hinojosa, who was married with 11 children, began his work night on Dec.
17, 1990, by driving his Roy's Taxi to pick up a fare on Ventura Drive, in
a neighborhood west of Burleson Road and north of East Ben White
Boulevard. About a half-mile away, near the corner of Catalina Drive and
Metcalfe Road, he was shot in the back of the head three times, police
said at the time.

His car skidded off the road and into a house. Neighbors said the killer
emerged from the back seat covering a sawed-off shotgun with black
clothing or black plastic, told them he was uninjured and ran away.

The suspect was described as 5 feet 5 inches tall and about 140 pounds but
was not found that night. (Garcia is listed in court records at 5-foot-5,
150 pounds.)

Two days later, maintenance workers at the Silver Creek Apartments on
South First Street, south of Oltorf Street, noticed blood seeping from a
Yellow Checker cab in the parking lot. Police found Parrish's body stuffed
in the trunk. An autopsy showed that, like Hinojosa, he had been killed by
several gunshots to the back of the head.

Another man, Paul Mitchell Vallejo, was previously charged with Hinojosa's
death, but he was acquitted at a 1993 trial.

Previous crimes

Austin school district records that were filed in court said that Garcia
attended Fulmore during the 1979-80 school year and Travis High School the
following school year. His family once lived in an apartment on Ventura
Drive, the records show.

In 1981, according to court filings by prosecutors, Garcia robbed a
Sizzler steakhouse in Austin. During that robbery, the records say, he
fired a gun, and the bullet grazed someone's head. It is unclear in
records whether Garcia was convicted in that case. In 1982, he burglarized
a home off Burleson Road and was sentenced to probation. In 1984, Garcia
went to prison and then on probation for attempted burglary, the records

In the next two years, he committed four aggravated robberies and one
theft in Travis County, including the holdup of a Shoppers Mart store and
a Fox Photo, the records filed by prosecutors said. He was convicted of
one count of aggravated robbery at that time, records show.

In 1990, Garcia bought two guns, according to court records. That was
illegal because he was a felon, and in 1995 he was sentenced to five years
in prison. It is unclear from records why 5 years passed between the time
the guns were purchased and the time Garcia was sentenced. In 2000, after
his release, he was arrested and later convicted for using guns to rob
three Austin banks, federal court records show.

Garcia was in federal prison in Three Rivers in South Texas when he was
first suspected in the slayings.

Life or execution?

If Garcia is convicted, the 12-member jury will be asked a series of
questions to determine whether he should receive the death penalty or life
in prison. Because the law changed in 1991, those questions differ from
the questions jurors in more recent Texas death penalty cases must answer.

First, the jury would decide whether Garcia acted deliberately and with
the reasonable expectation that death would result.

Second, the jury would determine whether it is probable Garcia would
commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat
to society.

Third, the jury would decide if the killing was unreasonable in response
to any provocation by the deceased.

If the jury answers "yes" to those questions, it would determine whether
there was any mitigating evidence to warrant a sentence of life in prison
instead of death.

If the first 3 answers are "yes" and the final answer is "no," then Garcia
would receive the death penalty.

During jury selection, defense lawyer Bill White told a prospective juror
that the jury might never get to the death penalty questions.

"We believe he is not guilty," White said. "We believe this is going to be
a hotly contested case on whether or not he is guilty."

(source: Austin American-Statesman)