HUNTSVILLE, TEXAS (TIP): A former street gang member was executed on Septmber 19 evening for his involvement in a gang ambush in which four women were gunned down 11 years ago. Robert Gene Garza, 30, became the 12th condemned inmate executed this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state. Garza smiled and blew a kiss to friends and relatives as they entered the death chamber. In a brief final statement, he thanked them for coming and told them he loved them. “I know it’s hard for you,” he said. “It’s not easy. This is a release. Y’all finally get to move on with your lives.” He was pronounced dead at 8:41pm CDT, 26 minutes after a lethal dose of pentobarbital began flowing into his arms. A member of a Rio Grande Valley gang known as the Tri-City Bombers even before he was a teenager, Garza insisted a statement to police acknowledging his participation in the September 2002 shootings in Hidalgo County was made under duress and improperly obtained. But prosecutors said Garza orchestrated the gang’s plan to silence the women, who Garza thought had witnessed another gang crime, and was present when several gang members opened fire on the women when they arrived at their trailer park home after work at a bar.
“I really didn’t have anything to do with the scenario the state was providing,” Garza told The Associated Press recently from death row. “I guess since we are gang members, they got me involved through the gang. “I think they were just trying to close this case … and they needed somebody.” Evidence later would show the women were killed by mistake. The gang member in the other crime never went to trial because he accepted a plea deal and prison term. Garza, who was arrested in late January 2003, was convicted under Texas’ law of parties, which makes a non-triggerman equally culpable. Evidence showed Garza was a gang leader, told his companions how to do the killings, was present when the shootings took place and “in all likelihood was a shooter but is downplaying his part,” Joseph Orendain, the county assistant district attorney who prosecuted him, said this week. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case. His lawyer, Don Vernay, said appeals were exhausted.