HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Convicted killer Lionell Rodriguez was executed Wednesday evening for the fatal shooting almost 17 years ago of a Houston woman during a carjacking just three weeks after he had been paroled from prison.
"You have every right to hate me. You have every right to want to see this. To you and my family, you all don't deserve to see this," Rodriguez told the relatives of Tracy Gee, as he looked directly at them as they watched through a window nearby.
He said he did not write them a letter to apologize because he wanted to do it "face-to-face."
"It is the right thing to do. None of this should have happened. I've got a good family just like you're a good family," he continued.
Rodriguez said he hoped that Gee's family could put aside any bitterness because of what he did.
"I'm responsible. I'm responsible," he repeated. "I'm sorry to you all. This should have never happened."
He thanked his relatives who watched through another window, adding, "We'll see each other again."
He muttered a brief prayer, mouthed them a kiss and closed his eyes as the lethal drugs began to take effect. He was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m., eight minutes later.
The execution of Rodriguez, 36, was the 16th this year and the first of two on consecutive evenings in the nation's most active death penalty state.
The U.S. Supreme Court two months ago refused to review Rodriguez's case, and his lawyers said there were no legal avenues left to try to spare him.
"We did our best," attorney Alex Calhoun said. "Unfortunately, the courts didn't quite agree with our estimation of a lot of the facts."
Rodriguez was 19 and free after serving less than five months of a seven-year prison term for burglary and cocaine possession when he and a cousin decided to prowl Houston to act out fantasies they'd seen in the movies.
They failed to hold up a gas station because there were too many people around the place. They shot at a motorist in Fort Bend County.
When they pulled up at a stoplight in Houston alongside a car driven by Gee, a 22-year-old who was almost home on her way back from her job at a tennis pro shop, Rodriguez wanted her car because theirs was running low on gas. His cousin, James Gonzales, slid back in the driver's seat to give Rodriguez a clear shot with a .30-caliber M-1 rifle he'd stolen from his stepfather, a Fort Bend County police officer.
The bullet shattered the passenger side window of Gee's car and struck her in the head, fatally wounding her. Rodriguez jumped into her car, pushed her body to the pavement and drove over her as he sped away.
Gonzales, still driving his own car, soon after tried to flee from an officer who was pulling him over for a broken taillight. Fearing he was being stopped for Gee's shooting, he told officers Rodriguez was the gunman. Police then tracked down Rodriguez near his home in Fort Bend County. When arrested, he was in Gee's car, the inside of it splattered with her remains.
"It's one of those things where there's not a whole lot of doubt about what happened and who did it," said Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, who handled the case as an assistant prosecutor. "We had her brains and bone and blood in his hair and all over his body after he sat in the seat where he shot her."
Rodriguez confessed. A Harris County jury convicted him of capital murder and decided he should die.
The blood evidence and the confession were insurmountable to his defense, said J.C. Castillo, Rodriguez's trial lawyer.
"I'd like to think I tried everything," he said. "But when it comes down to the day being over, it's basically, 'Please spare his life, he's so young and there's room for improvement.' It didn't help."
Gonzales received a 40-year prison term.
Rodriguez's conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1993 because of a procedural problem in jury selection. The following year, he was convicted a second time and again sentenced to death.
Another inmate, Gilberto Reyes, was to follow Rodriguez to the death chamber Thursday evening. Reyes, 33, was condemned for the 1998 rape-slaying of a former girlfriend, Yvette Barraz. She was abducted, beaten and strangled after leaving her job as a waitress in Muleshoe along the Texas-New Mexico state line.