Michael Anthony Rodriguez, 45, was executed by lethal injection on 14 August 2008 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a police officer while on escape from prison.
On 13 December 2000, Rodriguez, then 38, escaped from the maximum-security Connally Prison Unit in south Texas, where he was serving a life sentence for hiring a hitman to murder his wife. Rodriguez made the escape with six other prisoners - Patrick Murphy, 39; Donald Newbury, 38; George Rivas, 30; Joseph Garcia, 29; Randy Halprin, 23; and Larry Harper. They overpowered prison workers, stole guns from the armory, and escaped in a prison pickup that had been modified with a false bottom. They then drove to a nearby store, where Rodriguez's father had left another truck for them.
The leader of the escapees, George Rivas, had a plan to rob a sporting goods store by posing as employees of its security service. After that, the group intended to go to Nevada to rob a casino. Six days later, they were in the Houston area, where they robbed a Radio Shack and an Auto Zone. They also obtained uniforms from a used clothing store.
Eleven days after the escape, on 24 December, the escapees robbed an Oshman's sporting goods store in Irving. Patrick Murphy remained outside as lookout while the others went inside to tie up the employees and gather guns. A woman outside noticed what was going on, and called the police. After stealing one of the employees' Ford Explorer, Murphy drove it to the loading dock and alerted the others via radio that a policeman was coming. Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins arrived as the robbers were leaving and pulled in behind the Explorer. The men shot him eleven times and ran over him with their getaway truck.
The robbers left with guns, camping equipment and about $70,000 in cash. Rivas purchased a recreational vehicle with the money and, posing as a lawman, bought body armor from a police supply store. The group fled to Colorado and stayed together, living in an RV park near Colorado Springs for about three weeks before they were tracked down. On 22 January 2001, a SWAT team surrounded the gang in the trailer park. When capture was imminent, escapee Larry Harper killed himself. Rivas, Rodriguez, Garcia, and Halprin were captured alive. Murphy and Newbury evaded capture, but surrendered two days later.
A jury convicted Rodriguez of capital murder in May 2002 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in March 2006. Later, Rodriguez chose to drop his appeals, and was allowed to do so after convincing the courts he was mentally competent.
All five of the other surviving escapees were also convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. They remain on death row as of this writing. Rodriguez's father, Raul Rodriguez, also pleaded guilty to helping the prisoners escape.
"It was so thrilling that we actually got away with it," Rodriguez said to a reporter during an interview from death row the week before his execution. "But after Mr. Hawkins got killed, and I saw Peter Jennings on the TV news with our pictures, I thought: 'Oh my God. Oh my God, am I in trouble!'"
Rodriguez said that when he saw the police car, he hid under some sleeping bags that the gang had stuffed with stolen guns and money. "I just heard shots - pop, pop, pop. I thought it was the police, but no, it was us," he said. "I'm glad we got caught ... I'm glad it ended when it did. It would have been a mess."
Unlike many other condemned prisoners, Rodriguez had no qualms about dying for his actions. "Look, I'm guilty of what they said - everything." He said he wanted his wife's family and Hawkins' family "to know how truly sorry I am, and I am willing to pay."
"I need to pay back," Rodriguez said. "I can't pay back monetarily. This is the way."
Rodriguez blamed his wife's killing in 1992 on "lust" after he met a college student in San Marcos. "My wife was a wonderful person, and didn't deserve this," Rodriguez said. "I fell for a coed. It was stupid. I sit in my cell and think, 'How the heck did I get here?' But I was a willing participant ... I really thought I would get off, like a lot of people who are deluded."
"May I speak now?", Rodriguez asked as he was strapped to the execution gurney. "No, not yet," he was told. Needles were placed in both of his arms, and he was then given the chance to make his last statement. "I know this no way makes up for all the pain and suffering I gave you.," Rodriguez said. "I am so, so sorry. My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I have caused. I hope that someday you can find peace. I am not strong enough to ask for forgiveness because I don't know if I am worthy. I realize what I've done to you and the pain I've given. Please Lord, forgive me. I have done some horrible things. I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I have gained nothing, but just brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people. I am sorry. So, so sorry. To the Sanchez family, who showed me love. To the Hawkins family, I am sorry. I know I have affected them for so long. Please forgive me. Irene, I want to thank you and thank your husband, Jack. I'll be waiting for you. I am so sorry. To these families I ask forgiveness. Father, God, I ask you too for forgiveness. I ask you for forgiveness, Lord. I am ready to go, Lord. Thank you. I am ready to go."
Rodriguez then began singing a Christian song:
Rodriguez's singing trailed off as the lethal drugs took effect. He was pronounced dead at 6:20 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 18 August 2008.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, court documents.