HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A member of the infamous "Texas 7" gang of escaped fugitives was executed Thursday for killing a Dallas-area police officer during their weeks on the run.
Michael Rodriguez, who had dropped all appeals and volunteered for lethal injection, apologized profusely to the officer's widow and his own former sister-in-law before the lethal injection. He had been serving a life sentence for killing his wife at the time of the 2000 escape.
"My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and suffering I've brought you," Rodriguez said. "I'm not strong enough to ask for forgiveness. I ask the Lord to forgive. I've done horrible things that brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people," he said, looking directly at the women.
"I'm sorry, so sorry," he said.
As the drugs took effect, Rodriguez, 45, was praying in a whisper. "I'm ready to go, Lord," he said.
Seven minutes later, at 6:20 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead. Outside the prison, several dozen police officers stood at attention while the execution was carried out, their hands clasped in front of them.
Rodriguez, the first of the six surviving "Texas 7" band to be put to death, pushed to have his punishment carried out for more than two years.
"Let's do the right thing — for once," he explained in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "My parents raised me to be accountable."
A federal judge held competency hearings to ensure Rodriguez could make such a decision. After the judge approved, the execution was stalled while the U.S. Supreme Court considered challenges that lethal injection was unconstitutionally cruel. After the justices earlier this year ruled the method was not improper, Rodriguez's execution date was set.
Rodriguez and six fellow inmates broke out of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Connally Unit in December 2000 by overpowering some workers there, stealing their clothes and breaking into the prison armory to get guns. Their escape was aided by his father, who parked a getaway vehicle nearby, enabling them to ditch a stolen prison truck. Rodriguez's father later was convicted of helping them.
"Rodriguez was one of the more violent ones during the escape," Toby Shook, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted him for capital murder, recalled. "He would put these shanks in people's ears while they were being tied up, making threats."
Two weeks after the break, on Christmas Eve evening, the fugitives shot and killed Irving policeman Aubrey Hawkins during the robbery of a sporting goods store that netted them $70,000, more guns and the IDs of employees.
Rodriguez acknowledged taking the fatally wounded officer's gun and pulling him from his patrol car. Shook said evidence showed he also was among the gang shooting at Hawkins and a gun that was left behind at the scene belonged to Rodriguez. Evidence showed a bullet from that gun was lodged in the dashboard of the officer's car.
"It was headed straight for him," Shook said. "So he was right in front of him and firing directly at him."
Hawkins was shot 11 times and was run over with his own car.
"The memory of Officer Aubrey Hawkins, his dedication to duty and family are cherished by the Irving Police Department and others that knew Aubrey," the department said in a statement released Thursday. "His legacy and his service are not forgotten.
"Our police family suffered a devastating loss through Aubrey's ultimate sacrifice."
A month after Hawkins' murder, Rodriguez and three of the prisoners were captured at a trailer park outside Colorado Springs, Colo. A fifth escapee, Larry Harper, killed himself as police closed in. Two others surrendered two days later, ending one of Texas' most notorious prison breaks.
"I'm glad we got caught, so no one else would get hurt," Rodriguez said from death row.
His five remaining accomplices — George Rivas, Randy Halprin, Donald Newbury, Joseph Garcia and Patrick Murphy — joined him on death row. Appeals for each remain in the courts and none has an execution date.
"The hardest thing is the constant presence of it," said Hawkins' widow, Lori. "It's not like there's one person involved. There are six."
Rodriguez's earlier murder conviction was for paying a hit man to kill his wife, Theresa, in 1992 in San Antonio. He said it was the result of an infatuation with a younger woman who was a student at a university in San Marcos where Rodriguez also was taking classes.
"It was stupid," Rodriguez acknowledged.
Rodriguez was the eighth convicted killer executed this year in the nation's busiest capital punishment state and the fourth this month. Another is set for next week.