Death Watch: Double Death Penalty

Garcia, convicted of capital murder, contends that his confessions were improperly admitted as evidence

In Jan. 1991, 19-year-old Gustavo Garcia, his wife, and a third accomplice, 15-year-old Christopher Vargas, stepped into a Plano convenience store for a robbery and ultimately shot and killed the store clerk, 18-year-old Gregory Martin, while he was on the phone with his pregnant girlfriend. The girlfriend, who heard the shotgun blast, called police, who arrived on the scene to find Garcia's wife, Sheila Maria Garcia, outside by a gas pump. Garcia was hiding inside one of the store's coolers.

During interrogations, police were able to link Garcia to the December slaying of 43-year-old Plano liquor store clerk Craig Turski. Garcia confessed to that murder via written statement: "I killed the clerk with the shotgun," he wrote. He was charged with capital murder for both slayings but only tried in Turski's death. Vargas was convicted of capital murder in Martin's death and sentenced to life in prison.

Garcia went to trial in Dec. 1991. On Dec. 19, he was handed the death penalty. A Dec. 1994 decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the decision, however, noting that Garcia's written confession did not include the necessary language indicating that Garcia "knowing[ly], intelligent[ly], and voluntar[il]y" waived his right to remain silent during interrogations. The sentence was later reinstated during a follow-up hearing.

In late Nov. 1998, Garcia was one of seven inmates in Huntsville's Ellis Unit who took part in an elaborate attempt to escape the prison. One succeeded, though he drowned in a lake shortly after jumping the prison wall. Garcia and five others surrendered while still on the Huntsville grounds.

In June 2000, Garcia was granted a new sentencing hearing (along with five others) after the Texas Attor­ney General learned that former Texas Department of Criminal Justice Chief Psychologist Dr. Walter Quijano testified that Garcia could be a continued threat to society if he was given a life sentence simply because he was Hispanic. But Garcia was handed another death sentence in March of 2001.

On Jan. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Garcia's case without comment. Through his attorneys, Garcia, now 42, continues to contend that his confessions were improperly admitted as evidence, and that he did not receive adequate counseling during his trial. With his execution scheduled for Feb. 16, Garcia stands to be the third Texan executed this year, and the 534th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

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Gustavo Garcia, Gregory Martin, death penalty, Craig Turski, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

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