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A jury convicted Conner of capital murder in June 1999 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in September 2001.
In his habeas corpus appeals, Conner alleged that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at his trial because his lawyers failed to investigate a 1996 leg injury that left him with a condition called "foot drop," which caused him to limp. Conner alleged that he could not run easily because of this limp, and that he could not have committed the crime, as witnesses testified that the robber ran quickly, and none of them mentioned a limp. In affidavits, his trial lawyers, Ricardo Rodriguez and Jonathan Munier, stated that while Conner mentioned a leg injury, he told them that it had healed and he was fine. The lawyers stated that Conner never mentioned any continuing problems with his leg, and that they never saw him limp. Conner's state appeals were unsuccessful, but in March 2005, after an evidentiary hearing including testimony from medical experts and from Conner himself, who testified that he told his attorneys he could not run, but they refused to listen to him, a federal district court agreed with his claims and granted him the right to a new trial.
The state of Texas appealed this decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which vacated the district court's opinion and reinstated Conner's conviction and death sentence in January 2007. The Fifth Circuit court ruled that Conner's claim of having a limp was dubious, as several witnesses at his 2003 hearing testified to either not noticing any limp until Conner pointed it out, or not noticing it at all. The court further ruled that it was not pivotal whether Conner had a limp, because no medical expert ever testified that Conner could not run in 1998, and none of the witnesses at his trial were asked whether the suspect ran with a limp or whether there was anything unusual about his gait. Finally, the court ruled that there was sufficient incriminating evidence from the bottle fingerprint and Gutierrez's testimony to convict him even if all of the testimony from witnesses who saw him flee the scene was removed. Conner's subsequent appeals were denied.
Conner declined to speak with reporters the week preceding his execution. On an anti-death-penalty web site, he called his conviction an "atrocious act of barbarity against the law and mankind."
At his execution, Conner asked the warden for permission to speak longer than the customary two minutes allotted for condemned prisoners' last statements. Ngyuen's daughter, Marie Ngyuen; sister, Katherine Le; and their husbands watched from a viewing room. Conner asked them to point out the victim's daughter, so that he could look at her, and asked her to look at him. "I want you to understand something: hold no animosity towards me," Conner said to her. "I am not mad at you. Even though you don't know me, I love you. I ask y'all in your heart to forgive me." Marie Ngyuen nodded her head, but Le stared at the wall and did not look at Conner, even though he repeatedly asked her to.
"What is happening to me is unjust, and the system is broken," Conner continued. However, he asked his relatives to forgive him and accept his execution. "I didn't mean to hurt you. Continue to live your life and don't be angry at what is happening to me. This is destiny. This is life. This is something I have to do. Allah wants me home." After speaking for about three minutes, Conner appeared to have concluded his statement, and the lethal injection was started. He then said "I love you and ..." then lost consciousness. He was pronounced dead at 6:20 p.m.
Conner's execution was the 400th in the state of Texas since executions resumed in 1982 following a nationwide moratorium. The day before the execution, the European Union sent Governor Rick Perry a letter urging him to stop allowing executions in Texas. Perry replied through a spokesman that the European Union should mind its own business.
By David Carson. Posted on 24 August 2007.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Huntsville Item, court documents.