Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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Media Advisory: Robert Gene Garza scheduled for execution

AUSTIN – Pursuant to an order entered by the 398th District Court in Hildago County, Robert Gene Garza is scheduled for execution after 6 p.m. on September 19, 2012.

In 2003, a Hildago County jury found Garza guilty of murdering Maria De La Luz Bazaldua Cobbarubias, Dantizene Lizeth Vasquez Beltran, Celina Linares Sanchez, and Lourdes Yesenia Araujo Torres.

FACTS OF THE CRIME

The United States Court of Appeals for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas described the murder as follows:

At around midnight on September 4, 2002, Maria De La Luz Bazaldua Cobbarubias headed home from her job as a barmaid at Garcia’s Bar in Donna, Texas. She offered to give five coworkers – Dantizene Lizeth Vasquez Beltran, Celina Linares Sanchez, Lourdes Yesenia Araujo Torres, Karla Espino Ramos and Magda Torres Vasquez – a ride to the mobile home where they all lived. Another woman – Nora Rodriguez – remained behind to close the bar. Ms Cobbarubias did not notice a vehicle following them to their home on Valley View Road. After she parked the car near their trailer, gunfire erupted.

Eyewitnesses saw the vicious assault on Ms. Cobbarubbias’ car, though no one could conclusively identify the shooters. Witnesses saw two men wearing black repeatedly fire into the vehicle. The police later recovered sixty-one spent shell cases from the scene. All but one of the women suffered gunshot wounds. Four of them – Cobbarubias, Beltran, Sanchez, and Torres – died.

After riddling the victims’ car with bullets, the men got into the vehicle that had followed the women and sped away. The gunmen abandoned their vehicle a few miles away after it had run out of gas.

Police investigation uncovered many false leads and unsubstantiated rumors about the four murders. Their attention soon turned to members of a local criminal gang involved in murder, robbery, drug running, assault, and theft. Information led the police to believe that a leader of the [local criminal gang] who was serving time for attempted murder had ordered a hit on Ms. Rodriguez because she had witnessed a shooting in Garcia’s Bar and later testified against him. In carrying out that hit, the gunmen who intended to kill Ms. Rodriguez slaughtered the victims by mistake.

Informants pointed to Garza as a possible gunman. Garza was a member of the [local criminal gang] with tattoos attesting to his gang affiliation. The police believed that Garza had also been involved in the January 4, 2003, gang-related killing of six people in nearby Edinburg, Texas. In that crime – known colloquially as the Edinburg massacre – the [local criminal gang] orchestrated a fake police assault on two houses in a failed attempt to steal drugs.

On January 24, 2003, the police arrested Garza and questioned him about his involvement in the Edinburg massacre. He confessed. Two days later, an officer from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office interviewed him about his role in the Donna killings. Garza wrote a statement confessing that he helped prepare for the murders and followed the gunmen to the trailer house, but he did not admit to being one of the shooters. Garza wrote that he and another man “received instruction[s] to carry out a hit that resulted in the death of four [women]. The hit was organized for us.” After getting vehicles and a gun, Garza followed another car to the crime scene, saw two fellow gang members get out, and “then shots rang out.” The two cars drove away, until the car Garza was in broke down. The gang leader who ordered the hit “was mad ‘cause it wasn’t done right.”

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In September 2002, a Hildago County grand jury indicted Garza for murdering Maria De La Luz Bazaldua Cobbarubias, Dantizene Lizeth Vasquez Beltran, Celina Linares Sanchez, and Lourdes Yesenia Araujo Torres.

A Hildago County jury found Garza guilty of capital murder. After the jury recommended capital punishment, the court sentenced Garza to death. Judgment was entered Dec. 17, 2003.

On April 31, 2007, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Garza’s direct appeal and affirmed his conviction and sentence. Garza did not appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Garza also sought to appeal his conviction and sentence by filing an application for a state writ of habeas corpus with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On Sept. 10, 2008, the high court denied Garza’s application for state habeas relief.

On Oct. 2, 2009, Garza attempted to appeal his conviction and sentence in the federal district court for the Southern District of Texas. The federal district court denied his petition for federal writ of habeas corpus on Sept. 15, 2011.

On Aug. 27, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied Garza’s request for certificate of appealabilty on his federal writ of habeas corpus.

On Feb. 19, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Garza’s appeal when it denied his petition for a writ of certiorari off federal habeas.

PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY

Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented with information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial – which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.

During the penalty phase of Garza’s trial the jury heard that was ordered to the Hidalgo County Youth Village, a residential facility for boys in February 1997. And later that year, Garza was ordered into the custody of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) for burglary of a habitation. In February 2002, Garza was sent to the Texas Department of Correction (TDC) for escape. Several employees with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department testified to Garza’s attempted escape from county jail in April 2003.

MISCELLANEOUS

For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.