Texas Execution Information Center

Execution Report: Manuel Garza

Manuel Garza
Manuel Garza
Executed on 15 April 2015

Manuel Fernando Garza Jr., 34, was executed by lethal injection on 15 April 2015 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a police officer who was trying to arrest him.

On 2 February 2001, San Antonio police officer John "Rocky" Riojas, who was part of a team investigating property crimes at apartments, pulled his marked police cruiser into the parking lot of an apartment complex. He stepped out of his car, approached Garza, then 20, and asked him for identification. At this time, there were several warrants out for Garza's arrest. Garza gave Riojas a false name. When Riojas instructed Garza to place his hands on his police car, Garza sprinted away. Riojas chased him and caught up with him. A physical altercation ensued, during which Riojas drew his sidearm. Garza wrested it away from him, then fired one shot, hitting him in the forehead and killing him. He then cursed at the victim and ran away with his gun.

Garza was arrested two days later at his sister's apartment, where he was trying to sell the gun.

Garza gave two written statements, which contained three slightly different explanations of how the victim was shot. In the first statement, given at the time of his arrest, Garza said he was "trying to get away because I didn't want to go to jail." He stated that he and Riojas were engaged in a struggle and he was underneath the officer. He saw that Riojas had removed the gun from his holster. "I grabbed the cop's hand that was holding the gun and my other hand was holding the cop off me. He was a big dude. I grabbed the hand that had the gun in it and I was able to twist the gun away from me and it was pointed upwards where it was facing the cop and then the gun went off. I saw blood all over my hand and the cop just fell. I ran."

In a subsequent portion of the same statement, however, Garza stated, "I pointed the gun over my right shoulder and I pulled the trigger. The gun had a hair trigger on it and it surprised me when it ... went off so quick. I only fired one time. The cop went down and he landed on my right side and I got up and took off running."

Two days later, Garza gave a second written statement. In this one, he said that he turned around when Riojas was chasing him and "threw my hands out." Riojas then "grabbed my right hand and he punched me in the mouth." He then grabbed Riojas, and they began wrestling. In this account, Garza stated that "the gun went off as the cop was grabbing it."

Garza blamed Riojas for what he claimed was an accidental shooting. "I truly think this was the cop's fault," he said. "I don't see why he wanted to pull out his gun."

While officers were escorting Garza into a holding cell, he reportedly smirked and used obscenity-laced language to tell them they were "lucky I didn't get y'all ... too."

The story of Officer Riojas's murder was covered intensely by the local media. According to the San Antonio Express-News, one television photographer was attacked by a Garza family member. Thousands of people attended the slain officer's funeral, which was broadcast live on local television.

Twelve days after the murder, Elizabeth Ames Jones, a first-term Texas state representative, held a news conference, with Riojas' grieving widow at her side, to announce she was filing "Rocky's Bill," which would increase the penalty for taking a police officer's weapon to a third-degree felony. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, agreeing that the change in law was "absolutely necessary," carried the measure in the Senate. The bill was passed in 2005 by a voice vote in the House and by a unanimous vote in the Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry.

At Garza's trial, Nathan Henges testified that he witnessed the beginning of the struggle from his girlfriend's balcony. He stated that the two men engaged each other and began to "basically wrestle on the ground ... [trying] to take each other down to the ground." He did not see either of them raise his hands or hit the other.

Erica Henderson testified that she came up to the scene after Riojas and Garza were already engaged. She said that she observed a police officer struggling with a man he was trying to apprehend. Both men were on their knees, and the officer was trying to get the man into a headlock. She saw a gun in the man's hand, saw the officer reaching for the gun, and the man moving his hands around to keep the gun away from him. She saw the man raise the gun over his right shoulder, duck his head away from the gun, and pull the trigger. She heard a gunshot, and saw the officer fall to the ground. She testified that Riojas' arms "were nowhere near the gun" when it went off. She saw the man stand up, take a brief look, put the gun in his pants, and run away.

Firearms examiner Edward Love Jr. testified concerning Garza's statements that the gun had a "hair trigger" and "went off" unintentionally. He stated that Officer Riojas' Glock pistol had three safety mechanisms that prevented the weapon from firing unless the trigger was pressed deliberately, and that all three mechanisms were working correctly when he test fired it. He further testified that Riojas' pistol had been modified to require 8.25 pounds of pressure on the trigger to discharge, rather than the 5.5 pounds normally required on a Glock pistol.

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