Arturo Eleazar Diaz, 37, was executed by lethal injection on 26 September 2013 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder and robbery of a man in his apartment.
On the night of 1 April 1999, Michael Nichols, 25, who was in McAllen on business, was out with exotic dancer Danielle Thomas. After an automated teller machine destroyed Nichols' bank card, Thomas loaned him $100.
Thomas brought Nichols back to her trailer after the nightclubs closed at 2:00 a.m. There they met up with Diaz, then 33, and Arcelia Reyes. The four watched movies until 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., when Reyes borrowed Nichols' truck to take Thomas to perform a dance at a motel. Reyes subsequently returned Nichols' truck and then rejoined Thomas at the motel.
Between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. that evening - a Friday - Nichols, Diaz, and Jose Cordova, 25, arrived at an apartment owned by Nichols' employer. John Shepherd, a co-worker of Nichols, was there. Shepherd left to buy beer and cigarettes. When he returned, Nichols, Diaz, and Cordova were watching television in the living room. Shepherd went to bed.
Sometime after 8:00 p.m, Thomas and Reyes stopped by so that Thomas could recover the $100 she had loaned Nichols. He opened his billfold and gave Thomas a $50 bill. She saw that Nichols had another $50 bill in his billfold, but he kept it. The women then left the apartment.
Later that night, Shepherd was awakened by a loud noise. As he later testified, he went to the living room and found Nichols bleeding from a wound in his arm. Diaz was holding a large butcher knife. After Shepherd asked three times "What's going on?," Nichols said, "Do what he says; get the money and they'll leave." Cordova said some things in Spanish and English about Shepherd getting money. Diaz spoke angrily in Spanish. Diaz then grabbed Shepherd's shirt and pushed him down the hall to his room. Shepherd got some cash from his pants pocket and gave it to Diaz. Diaz checked the pants for more money, then grabbed Shepherd's shirt and led him back to the living room. Cordova told Shepherd to sit on the couch and do what he was told. Diaz and Cordova then put Nichols on the floor and bound and gagged him with shoelaces and strips of bedding.
Around midnight, someone called the apartment. Cordova answered the phone and told the caller to come over. Shepherd testified that soon after the phone call, "a large Hispanic woman" was at the door. She asked Cordova and Diaz what was going on. Cordova answered in Spanish, and Shepherd saw that she did not look happy with his response. Cordova told the woman to face the door, and told Shepherd not to look at her.
Next, Diaz and Cordova beat Nichols. They put Shepherd on the floor and bound and gagged him, and then returned their attention to Nichols. Cordova lifted him up and held him, while Diaz stabbed him in the torso numerous times, killing him. When Cordova noticed that Shepherd had freed one of his hands, he and Diaz beat him and stabbed him. Shepherd pretended to be dead, then lost consciousness.
Shepherd awoke between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. The apartment was dark. He freed himself from his bindings and left the apartment. Shepherd testified that when he returned from the store the previous evening, he noticed that Nichols' truck was in the center of the parking lot. Now, however, it was at the apartment gate, with the driver's door open. Shepherd then had a neighbor call the police.
The police found Nichols' truck parked next to the keypad box inside the apartment's locked gate. There was blood in the truck and bedding material on the ground. A footprint on top of the keypad box was later matched to Diaz's shoe. Nichols' body was in the apartment. His billfold was empty. A beer bottle with Diaz's DNA on it was found on the floor next to him.
An autopsy showed that Nichols was stabbed 94 times. His liver, kidney, lungs, and heart had been perforated. A knife thrust had fractured a rib and broken the tip off of the knife, lodging it in the rib. The autopsy also showed lacerations on Nichols' scalp, neck, and flanks.
At around 4:00 a.m., Cordova called his neighbor, Manuel Montes, to pick him up from another neighborhood. Montes testified that he picked up Cordova, Diaz, and a large woman and took them to his house. Cordova had a bloody shirt wrapped around his arm. Cordova borrowed a pair of pants from Montes and changed into them, then went to his home to get pants for himself and Diaz. He and Diaz changed clothes at Montes' home. Police later found a trash bag in Montes' home, containing clothing stained with Cordova's and Nichols' blood.
Montes also testified that he overheard Diaz telling some other men, in Cordova's presence, that they had murdered a man. He heard Diaz say he stabbed the man while Cordova held him.
Diaz had previous felony convictions for theft in July 1994 and criminal mischief in September 1994. He pleaded guilty to both crimes and was given concurrent seven sentences. He was then arrested later and pleaded guilty of burglary of a building. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years' probation, concurrent with his other sentences. He spent fifteen months in prison from May 1995 to August 1996, then was released on parole.
In order for a killing to qualify as capital murder, one or more aggravating factors, such as robbery or rape, must be present. At Diaz' trial, the defense asserted that the state failed to prove that Nichols' murder was committed in connection with a robbery or attempted robbery.
The defense also called a psychologist, Dr. Edward Pinkerman, to testify. Pinkerman met with Diaz twice to conduct a psychological evaluation. Pinkerman testified that past head trauma Diaz suffered could impair his judgement and perception of reality. Pinkerman also testified that Diaz had the verbal ability of an 11-year old. In his written evaluation, however, Pinkerman stated that Diaz may have exaggerated his behavior during his psychological evaluation so as to build a false case for mental illness.
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