CRIME

Texas carries out first US execution of 2017

This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows death row inmate Christopher Wilkins.

This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows death row inmate Christopher Wilkins.  (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

Texas on Wednesday put to death an inmate convicted of killing two men over a drug deal, the first U.S. execution of 2017.

Christopher Wilkins, 48, was declared dead at 6:29 p.m., 13 minutes after a lethal injection of pentobarbital.

Before the drug was administered, he twice mouthed "I'm sorry," to two relatives of one of the murder victims as they watched through a window. He gave no final statement.

Wilkins had explained to jurors at his capital murder trial in 2008 how and why he killed his friends in Fort Worth three years earlier, saying he didn't care if they sentenced him to death.

Wilkins was released from prison in 2005 after serving time for a federal gun possession conviction. He drove a stolen truck to Fort Worth, where he befriended Willie Freeman, 40, and Mike Silva, 33.

Court records show Freeman and his drug supplier, who wasn't identified, duped Wilkins into paying $20 for a piece of gravel that he thought was a rock of crack cocaine. Wilkins said he shot Freeman on Oct. 28, 2005, after Freeman laughed about the scam, then he shot Silva because he was there. Wilkins' fingerprints were found in Silva's wrecked SUV and a pentagram matching one of Wilkins' numerous tattoos had been carved into the hood.

Wilkins also testified that the day before the shootings, he shot and killed another man, Gilbert Vallejo, 47, outside a Fort Worth bar in a dispute over a pay phone, and about a week later used a stolen car to try to run down two people because he believed one of them had taken his sunglasses.

"I know they are bad decisions," Wilkins told jurors of his actions. "I make them anyway."

Wes Ball, one of Wilkins' trial lawyers, described him as "candid to a degree you don't see," and had hoped his appearance on the witness stand would have made jurors like him.

"It didn't work," Ball said.

While awaiting trial, authorities discovered he had swallowed a handcuff key and fashioned a knife to be used in an escape attempt.

"This guy is the classic outlaw in the model of Billy the Kid, an Old West-style outlaw," said Kevin Rousseau, the Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wilkins.

Twenty convicted killers were executed in the U.S. last year, the lowest number since the early 1980s. That tally includes seven executions in Texas -- the fewest in the state since 1996. Wilkins is among nine Texas inmates already scheduled to die in the early months of 2017.