death penalty news—-TEXAS

Jan. 29


Inmate executed for killing fellow prisoner

A high-ranking Texas prison gang member whose violent history included an
attack on an inmate with a homemade spear was put to death Thursday night
for fatally injecting a fellow prisoner with an overdose of heroin.

Ortiz, 46, expressed love for his family and thanked them for their
support in the moment before he was executed.

"Stay strong," he said, although he had no personal witnesses in the death
chamber. "I'm at peace. I love you and my kids. See you."

9 minutes later, at 6:18 p.m. CST, he was pronounced dead.

Ortiz was condemned for the slaying of Gerardo Garcia, 22, who was killed
at the El Paso County jail more than 11 years ago. The slaying was in
retaliation for snitching on Ortiz and so he couldn't testify against
Ortiz about bank robberies the pair were suspected of carrying out,
authorities said.

Ortiz sought to put off the execution on the grounds that he should get
federal money to pay for legal representation to file a state clemency
request. That appeal, however, was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court
about two hours before he was scheduled to die.

The appeal issue is under review by the Supreme Court, which heard
arguments in January in the case of Tennessee death row inmate John
Harbison. Similar appeals from other condemned inmates hoping to delay
their punishments until the justices resolved the Tennessee case so far
have failed.

State attorneys had opposed the request to the courts, contending even if
Ortiz presented a clemency petition to the governor, it likely would fail.

"The facts of his capital crime … make Ortiz the 'poster child' for
future dangerousness: his victim was a fellow inmate," the Texas Attorney
General's Office said in a court filing.

Another late appeal rejected Thursday by the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals contended Ortiz's constitutional rights were violated because
prosecutors said he was affiliated with the Texas Syndicate, a well-known
primarily Hispanic prison gang.

A sergeant in the El Paso County Sheriff's Department described Ortiz as
the highest-ranking Texas Syndicate member in El Paso and that Ortiz's
status made him the "tank boss" in the jail, putting him in control of
other gang members there.

Ortiz declined to speak with reporters in the weeks preceding his
execution date. He had a long criminal history that included robbery,
aggravated robbery, burglary and possessing deadly weapons in prison,
including a homemade spear used to stab a fellow inmate. Records show he
was known as "Serrucho," Spanish for "Handsaw."

Defense attorneys at Ortiz's trial tried to show jurors Garcia had a death
wish and was considering suicide.

Garcia and Ortiz were allowed to see one another being interviewed by FBI
agents investigating a series of unsolved bank robberies, hoping each
would assume the other was cooperating. Neither man would budge, however,
and both were placed in the same area of the El Paso Detention Center,
where Garcia was found dead in 1997 of a heroin injection 3 times more
potent than the amount that could kill him.

Other jail inmates testified Ortiz obtained the drug the previous day and
injected Garcia, saying his bank robbery partner had to die for
implicating him.

Evidence also showed Ortiz was arrested in 1990 but never tried for the
execution-style slayings of two Houston-area parolees, Anthony Rosalio
Acosta, 42, and Jimmy Lopez Rangel, 29, whose bodies were found in the
desert near Fabens, southeast of El Paso.

Ortiz's execution came 24 hours after Virgil Martinez, 41, a former
Houston security guard, was put to death for gunning down four people,
including his ex-girlfriend and her 2 small children, during a 1996
shooting frenzy in Brazoria County.

Next week, condemned prisoner David Martinez is set to die Wednesday for
the 1994 slayings of his live-in girlfriend, Carolina Prado, 37, and her
son, Erik, 14, at their home in San Antonio. Both victims were fatally
beaten with a baseball bat.

Ortiz becomes the 5th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Texas and the 428th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on
December 7, 1982. Ortiz becomes the 189th condemned inmate to be put to
death in Texas since Rick Perry was elected governor in 2001.

Ortiz becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and trhe 1143rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January
17, 1977.

(sources: Associated Press & Rick Halperin)