A San Antonio man is set to die by lethal injection on Tuesday for a murder he didn’t actually commit. As part of the notorious “Texas 7” escape, Joseph Garcia was convicted and sentenced to die under a controversial law some say is unconstitutional.
“Why am I here? Why am I on death row? You know, I don't get it," said Garcia from death row Wednesday. "... Why are you trying to kill me for the actions of somebody else?”
Garcia was sentenced to death under the “Law of Parties,” which holds a non-shooter accomplice just as criminally liable as the person pulling the trigger.
WATCH | 'Law of Parties' and the death penalty in Texas
Stephanie Stevens, law professor, and supervising attorney for the St. Mary's University Center for Legal and Social Justice, said the law is broader in Texas than in other states.
“If you and another person were going to go rob a convenience store. If during the course of that robbery, your friend inside the store shot and killed the convenience store clerk, you would be guilty for capital murder as well, even though you sat in the car the whole time,” she said.
On Dec. 13, 2000, the group of inmates, known as the Texas 7, broke out of the Connally Prison Unit in Karnes County. The escape triggered the largest manhunt in the state’s history. Eleven days later, on Christmas Eve, members of the crew fatally shot and ran over Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins during a robbery of a sporting goods store.
“He was very nice and easy to get along with — very unassuming,” said Jeff Spivey, chief of the Irving Police Department, of Hawkins.
But Garcia said he shouldn’t be executed because he didn’t actively take part in the fatal shootout Hawkins.
"You have the testimony of these people who did actually kill," Garcia said. "... They did it. And so, I mean, I think what it all boils down to ... is that I'm one of the Texas 7.”
Garcia said his version of events is supported by the testimony of others — he was inside the store and never fired a gun.
“I don't know. I don't know what caused them to start firing at the officer," he said. "By the time I got out there on the back dock, it was over.”
But Chief Spivey says that makes no difference. Garcia directly participated in the murder of Hawkins in other ways.
“Joseph Garcia, due to his accomplice testimony is either credited with pulling Officer Hawkins’ dead body out of the car and moving the car so that they could then escape in the Ford Explorer," he said. "So I think it's a little self-serving for Joseph to say that.”
Nevertheless, some anti-death penalty activists say using the Law of Parties in death penalty cases might be a violation of the Constitution’s 8th Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. And with last-minute appeals filed the courts could intervene. Garcia is scheduled to be executed Tuesday at 6 p.m.