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David Renteria scheduled for execution Thursday for 2001 murder of El Paso girl

The execution chamber seen from one of two witness viewing rooms at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Huntsville Unit.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
The execution chamber seen from one of two witness viewing rooms at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Huntsville Unit.

The state of Texas plans to execute David Renteria, 53, on Thursday evening, for the 2001 murder of Alexandra Flores, which he maintains he did not commit — only that he was pressured by a gang to kidnap and dispose of her body. Renteria would be the eighth person executed in Texas this year.

Among Renteria’s pending legal efforts to halt his execution is a petition in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that alleges the El Paso District Attorney’s Office violated Renteria’s constitutional rights by failing to turn over case documents.

In 2003, Reteria was convicted of killing Alexandra while he was on probation for indecency with a child. Security camera footage showed a man who appeared to be Renteria leading 5-year-old Flores out of an El Paso Walmart on Nov. 18, 2001, according to court documents. The girl was Christmas shopping with her family when she disappeared.

The next day, her partially-burned body was found in an alley 16 miles away from the Walmart. An autopsy found she was hit twice in the head and strangled by hand before being set on fire.

A jury sentenced Renteria to death. Five years later, after an automatic appeal resulted in the same conviction from an appeals court, Renteria again received a death sentence.

Renteria claimed Barrio Azteca gang members forced him to kidnap the child and dispose of her body, according to court documents, but he maintains he did not murder the girl. Renteria said he feared for his family’s safety if he refused to help the gang members, whom he alleges murdered Alexandra.

After the El Paso District Attorney’s Office declined to turn over case files related to the murder to Renteria’s lawyers earlier this year — which the office had done for a previous capital case — his legal team asked District Court Judge Monique Velarde Reyes to postpone the execution. The El Paso District Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

Renteria’s attorneys argued that declining to produce documents related to the case, which they suspected contained information about the involvement of gang members in the crime, violated his constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

On Aug. 29, Reyes granted that request, ordering the district attorney’s office to produce the documents and postponing Renteria’s Nov. 16 execution date indefinitely.

El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks appealed Reyes’ order, questioning if the district court judge has the authority to postpone the execution. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals — the state’s highest criminal appeals court — heard the appeal and overturned Reyes’ order, rescheduling Renteria’s execution date.

“Without a pleading before [Reyes] invoking a legitimate source of district-court jurisdiction, [Reyes] had no freewheeling jurisdiction to seek to safeguard Renteria’s Fourteenth Amendment rights," the appeals court wrote in its September order.

Renteria’s lawyers subsequently filed a petition for removal to bring the case in front of federal courts. Last month, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo denied Renteria’s motion.

“We are basically saying we have been shut out of this equal protection claim that the El Paso district judge found had merit,” said Humphreys McGee, an assistant federal public defender in the Capital Habeas Unit, who is representing Renteria.

Renteria’s legal team has since appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Renteria's motion earlier this week.

Additionally, Renteria has several other pending legal challenges including a petition against the state over its use of expired drugs to kill prisoners. That petition is in front of the Criminal Court of Appeals.

The ongoing controversy has not stopped the Texas Department of Criminal Justice from extending the use-by dates of its lethal doses of pentobarbital, the only drug used in Texas executions, after retesting their potency levels. Similar legal challenges to halt executions in light of the practice have been unsuccessful this year.

Furthermore, Renteria’s legal team has also asked state courts to pause his execution date to consider the new witness testimony that they learned about in 2018.

The El Paso District Attorney’s office shared a new statement with Renteria’s legal team in which a witness said her then-husband — not Renteria — told her he was involved in the girl’s murder, according to court documents. The witness’ husband told her to drive to the scene where the body was discovered.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Renteria’s request to review the new witness testimony, citing inaccuracies in the account relating to the date and nature of the murder.

McGee said no state court has ever heard or ruled on his client’s case in light of this witness's account. He added that the state owes Renteria “a fair chance and the full process to hear this new evidence and consider the … legality and constitutionality of an execution in light of it.”