death penalty news—-TEXAS

Nov. 9

TEXAS—-impending execution

Cuban native set to die for Houston slaying

The late-night sounds of a car horn and barking dogs outside the home a
few miles east of downtown Houston were familiar to drug dealer Jose
Martin Junco.

They meant customers.

But Junco, known as "Yogi," didn't have much of a chance on a night in
June 1999 when his buyers turned out to be several men connected to a
Hispanic prison gang who had targeted him for robbery. The heist was a
test to see if one of them, Kenneth Isaac Estrada, had the courage to
follow through and shoot Junco if the known cocaine dealer recognized any
of his robbers.

When the 28-year-old Junco was gunned down, it was the man identified as
the leader of the group, Yosvanis "El Cubano" Valle, who bragged about how
he emptied his 9 mm pistol 10 shots in Junco, testimony would show.

Cuban native Valle, 34, was set for lethal injection Tuesday evening in
Huntsville for Junco's robbery and slaying. He would be the 21st prisoner
executed this year in Texas.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year refused to review Valle's case.
His appeals exhausted, his lawyers last week lost a petition with the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking that Valle's death sentence be
commuted to life in prison.

"Nothing else remains for us to do," attorney Roland Moore said.

Valle insisted recently from a small visiting cage outside death row that
he was charged with "a murder I never did."

"I'm supposed to be the boss of this gang," he said. "Yes, they're going
to kill an innocent man. But there's not much you can do about it."

Prosecutors said the robbery was intended to raise money for members of
the gang La Raza Unida, or A Race United, and their relatives. Valle,
believed responsible for at least 4 other murders, was identified as a
sergeant in the gang, which he joined while serving an 8-year sentence for
possession of an illegal shotgun. He'd been out about 2 years when Junco
was shot and robbed of a cookie tin containing money, a small amount of
drugs, pornographic photos and 2 rifles.

"I killed someone over a quarter ounce," Valle was quoted as saying by a
witness who testified against him.

From death row, he denied ever killing anyone.

"My people turned on me," he told The Associated Press. "I know a lot of
things that happened. But, you know, because you're tough, that's what
happens to you. I can take this. Who made the decision to jump into the
gang? Me."

Estrada was arrested after being identified as one of the gunmen by
Junco's girlfriend, who was in the house at the time of the shooting.
Valle was arrested when his fingerprint was found in a car tied to another

Court documents show that Valle believed Estrada "had shown some weakness"
and he wanted to test Estrada by proposing they rob Junco, who was known
to have money and drugs at his house, and that Estrada, "to see if he had
any heart," would have to kill Junco if the victim recognized him or be
killed by another gang member.

At his trial, Valle's lawyers said evidence couldn't point to his
involvement in Junco's murder and testimony against him was the result of
plea deals prosecutors made with accomplices.

Estrada, who was tried separately, was sentenced to life in prison.
Evidence showed he shot Junco once.

Valle grew up in Cuba and came to the U.S. when he was 14 to join his
father. That was nearly a decade after his father had been expelled from
Cuba and came to the U.S. as part of the Mareilitos immigration wave in

At his trial and in appeals, attorneys argued Valle had been abused as a
child living in poverty in Cuba, leading to his aggressive behavior, and
then had difficulties fitting in when he came to America.

He wound up as a juvenile offender convicted of aggravated assault, was
incarcerated in the Texas Youth Commission and then went to state prison
for the weapons possession conviction where his gang affiliation grew.

"I'm at peace," Valle said from death row. "Whatever is going to happen is
going to happen. God knows the person I am."

3 more executions are scheduled in Texas next week.

(source: Associated Press)