Rodolfo Baiza Hernandez, 52, was executed by lethal injection on 21 March in Huntsville, Texas for murder and robbery.
In March 1985, five men came illegally into the United States from Mexico in a railroad box car. When they arrived in San Antonio, Texas, they met Rodolfo Hernandez, then 35, who agreed to transport them to Denton for $150 each. Hernandez took them to his house, where he picked up his brother, Richard, and his brother-in-law, Jesse Garibay, 19. The eight men drove a short distance, dropped Richard Hernandez off at his place of employment, and continued north.
When they reached a secluded area near New Braunfels, Garibay and Hernandez stopped the car, pretending they were having car trouble. They then opened the trunk and took out several firearms. Hernandez ordered the men out of the car and told them to lie on the ground, face down. When one of the victims tried to run away, Hernandez shot him in the back. Hernandez and Garibay shot each man multiple times with .22-caliber and .25-caliber weapons, took their valuables, and fled. Victor Cervan, 20, suffered four wounds and was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. The other four victims survived.
Hernandez was arrested six days later near Poteet, another town near San Antonio. Garibay was arrested twelve days after the murders in Longview, which is hundreds of miles away, near the Louisiana state line.
The four surviving victims identified Hernandez and Garibay as the men who shot and robbed them. Two of them testified against Hernandez at his trial. Jesse Garibay's wife, Susan, testified that on the day of the shootings, her husband came home appearing scared. Her brother, Rodolfo, watched television while handling a gun. When a news report came on about the shootings, Hernandez told Susan that President Reagan had told him to "get rid of some illegal aliens," because Texas was overpopulated. A neighbor, Anthony Urbano, testified that while Hernandez and Garibay were at his house a few days later, a news report about the shootings came on television and Hernandez bragged to him about shooting the men and killing one of them. Urbano later pawned two guns at Hernandez' request. These guns were identified as the ones used in the shootings.
Rodolfo Hernandez had a previous conviction for aggravated robbery. He began serving a 15-year sentence (or 12 years, according to some records) in 1975, then was paroled in 1979. In 1983, he was returned to prison for illegally possessing handguns and thereby violating parole. He was discharged again 13 months later. The murder of Victor Cervan took place about 8 months after his second release from prison. Hernandez also had an earlier conviction for unauthorized use of a vehicle (i.e. joy riding) in 1971, for which he received 2 years' probation.
Hernandez was convicted of capital murder in September 1985 and sentenced to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence in October 1990. He was originally scheduled to be executed in February 1996, but received a stay so he could file a federal appeal. That appeal was denied in August 1998, as were all of his later appeals.
Jesse Garibay Jr. was convicted of theft and sentenced to four years in prison. He has since received four more convictions for burglary and theft.
Hernandez contended that he was innocent of the killings, saying that the charges against him "were made up to make me look bad."
While on death row, Hernandez had to have his left leg amputated 4 inches below the knee in July 2001 as a result of diabetes complications. He requested an artificial leg, but a prison spokesman said that Hernandez could not have a prosthetic until an infection cleared up. As his next scheduled execution date of 21 March 2002 drew near, Hernandez repeated his request so that he could "walk like a man" to his execution. A prison spokesman said that a prosthetic leg would cost taxpayers $8,000 and was not considered a medical necessity, especially just days before Hernandez was to die.
On 19 March, two days before his scheduled execution date, Hernandez had confession with a priest. Afterward, he felt that he not cleared his conscience enough, and that further confession was necessary. This time, however, he wanted to confess not to a priest, but to police, about some other murders that he had committed. That afternoon, detectives in the San Antonio police department received a phone call requesting them to come to death row in Livingston. Homicide Detectives Robert Moffitt and Barney Whitson made the 200-mile drive and spoke with Hernandez on Wednesday morning. After gathering little that they could use in what they considered a wasted trip, they left and began driving back to San Antonio at about noon. On the way, prison officials called them and said that Hernandez wanted them to come back, and that he would be more cooperative.
Hernandez spent several hours Wednesday evening giving Moffitt and Whitson details of at least 12 other murders that he either committed or witnessed. Most of these murders occurred from 1980 to 1985 and had gone unsolved. Moffitt and Whitson called their unit with some of the information and headed home. All that night and the next morning, San Antonio police worked, matching Hernandez's stories with cases in their homicide archives. Around noon, they started to find that Hernandez knew details about these cases that only the killer or an eyewitness would know. At 5:15 p.m., 45 minutes before his execution was to begin, they faxed Governor Rick Perry, asking him to grant Hernandez an emergency stay of execution.
That afternoon, Hernandez was too nervous to eat any of his last meal. From the holding cell in the Walls Unit in Huntsville, he knew that at 6:00 p.m., some guards would come, strap him to a gurney, and wheel him into the execution chamber. But instead, one guard came two minutes ahead of schedule and told him that Governor Perry had granted him a stay. Hernandez would not be executed that night.
In an interview the next week, Hernandez said that, before his arrest, he was a well-paid contract killer. His employers -- "mobsters from California, New York, Chicago ... big mobsters" -- provided the guns, photographs of the targets, and paid him between $20,000 and $100,000 per killing. Hernandez said he did not know his victims and was under strict orders not to touch them or take anything from them. He said his orders were to "just make sure he's dead and go back about your business."
Hernandez said he was promised immunity from prosecution on the old cases by San Antonio authorities. He denied that he made the confessions simply to earn a stay and prevent his execution. He did admit, however, that he would try to parlay his cooperation with police into a commutation of his sentence. He also denied again that he killed Victor Cervan.
Prosecutors almost immediately requested a new execution date for Hernandez, and a judge set it for 30 April, only ten days after Gov. Perry's stay expired. This time, no one intervened.
At his execution, Hernandez thanked his spiritual advisor and friends by name. He then said, "Everybody will be all right, because y'all are going where I am going. Remember what I said, I want to see you all where I'm going. I want to give thanks. God, come and do Your will. I'm ready, Warden." As the lethal injection flowed, he repeated "Here I am, God. I'm coming to do your will," three times, his voice weakening each time. He was pronounced dead at 6:23 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 1 May 2002.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Huntsville Item.