4 condemned Texas prisoners lose appeals
By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Writer
© 2008 The Associated Press
HOUSTON — Four condemned prisoners lost appeals Wednesday before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, including a man identified as a leader of a gang authorities said was responsible for killing six men in a robbery-shooting spree in the Rio Grande Valley.
Humberto "Gallo" Garza, 34, acknowledged planning the robbery of a marijuana cache from two houses separated by a dirt driveway on the same property in Edinburg but denied being among the gunmen in the shooting that left six victims dead.
Garza, described as a leader in a gang known as the Tri-City Bombers, or "Bombitas," is one of three men on death row for involvement in the slayings. A fourth gang member was condemned for another shooting in 2002, four months before the Edinburg killings, that left four women dead.
In all, 13 men were indicted for the January 2003 massacre. The victims were identified as members of a rival gang, the Texas Chicano Brotherhood.
Others who moved closer to execution after being turned down by the court Wednesday were:
_Barney Ronald Fuller Jr., of Houston County in East Texas, convicted of the fatal shootings of a man and woman who were his neighbors.
_Chris Wayne Shuffield, of Bowie County in far northeast Texas, condemned for a fatal shooting and robbery.
_Rodrigo Hernandez, convicted of the rape-slaying of a San Antonio woman whose murder went unsolved for eight years.
In the Rio Grande Valley case, Garza in his appeal unsuccessfully raised 33 points of error from his 2005 trial on two counts of capital murder. Defense attorneys argued Garza at most was guilty of aggravated robbery. A jury found him guilty of one count of capital murder and one count of murder.
Among claims in his appeal were that he was subjected to unconstitutional double jeopardy, that jury instructions were improper, that his legal help was ineffective, that the judge was biased against him and that evidence didn't support the jury's verdict that Garza would be a future danger. The future danger question is posed to jurors deciding on a death sentence.
Evidence showed Garza's record included an attempted murder and burglary conviction that got him an 18-year prison sentence. He was paroled in April 2002 after serving 10 years. The Edinburg shootings occurred nine months later.
None of the prisoners who lost their appeals Wednesday has an execution date. They all can appeal to the federal courts.
Fuller, 49, is awaiting lethal injection for the 2003 shootings of Annette Copland, 39, and her husband, Nathan, 43, both of Lovelady. The couple's 14-year-old son also was wounded. The gunfire was the climax of escalating problems between the neighbors.
Fuller was arrested after a standoff with police. He pleaded guilty to capital murder and the jury decided he should be given the death sentence. Among his 44 points of trial error in his appeal, all rejected by the court, were claims that his trial court lacked authority to impose the death sentence because there was no jury verdict form finding him guilty.
Shuffield, 28, challenged the validity of his conviction and sentence for the 2001 shooting death of Lance Luke Walker, 36. He was shot at least three times and his truck was taken from his home. Shuffield confessed to the slaying. His defense at his trial was the charge should have been murder and not capital murder.
Hernandez, 34, was arrested in 2002, more than eight years after the body of Susan Verstegen was found stuffed into a 55-gallon drum behind a church in San Antonio.
Hernandez was about to be released from a Michigan prison when a then new law there required him to submit a DNA sample as a condition of his release. San Antonio police, using a national DNA database, matched his DNA to the Verstegen slaying. In his appeal, Hernandez challenged the validity of his conviction and sentence.