By Juan A. Lozano and Michael Graczyk
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HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Texas on Wednesday executed an inmate convicted of fatally shooting a Dallas police officer nearly 16 years ago after a high-speed chase.
Wesley Ruiz, 43, received a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, for the March 2007 killing of Dallas Police Senior Corporal Mark Nix.
“I would like to apologize to Mark and the Nix family for taking him away from you,” Ruiz said as he was laying strapped to a gurney in the death chamber. “I hope this brings you closure.”
He never looked at Nix’s relatives and friends, including the slain officer’s mother and sister, who watched through a window a few feet from him. Ruiz thanked his family and friends for supporting him and urged his children to “stand tall and continue to make me proud.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m ready to fly,” he said. “All right warden, I’m ready to ride.”
As the lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital began taking effect, he took two quick breaths, then began snoring. His 11th snore was his last and there was no further movement. Twenty-two minutes later, at 6:41 p.m., he was pronounced dead.
Immediately before his statement, a spiritual adviser standing near Ruiz offered a brief prayer. Outside the brick walls of the prison, a group of about a dozen pro-police motorcyclists sat on their bikes in a cold drizzle, revving their engines and nearly drowning out her words for those inside.
Ruiz was the second inmate put to death this year in Texas and the fourth in the U.S. Seven other executions are scheduled in Texas for later this year, including one next week.
Nearly 16 years ago Ruiz led officers on a high-speed chase after being spotted driving a car that matched the description of one used by a murder suspect. Authorities said Ruiz fired one shot at Nix when the officer tried to break the vehicle’s passenger window after the chase. The bullet hit Nix’s badge, splintered it and sent fragments into his neck, severing an artery. He later died at a hospital.
Nix, 33, a U.S. Navy veteran of Operation Desert Storm, had been on the Dallas force for nearly seven years and was engaged to be married when he was killed.
The U.S. Supreme Court earlier Wednesday declined an appeal from Ruiz’s attorneys to halt the execution. The defense had argued that jurors relied on “overtly racist” and “blatant anti-Hispanic stereotypes” in appraising whether Ruiz posed a future danger, an element needed to secure a death sentence in Texas. Ruiz was Hispanic.
In court documents filed late Tuesday with the Supreme Court, the Texas Attorney General’s Office said Ruiz’s claim of juror bias had no merit because a review of the allegations conducted last week by Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot found no such bias. One of the jurors accused of bias by Ruiz’s attorneys told Creuzot that, “I was not nor am not bias(ed) to anyone or any race,” according to the court filing.
Last week, U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas denied a request to stay Ruiz’s execution, saying his attorneys failed to show that jurors had made statements during his trial showing “overt racial bias.” On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also denied a similar stay request on claims of racial bias. The appeals court did not consider the merits of the claim, but rejected it on procedural grounds.
Ruiz’s attorneys previously argued unsuccessfully that an expert witness for the prosecution falsely testified at the 2008 trial about Ruiz being an ongoing threat. His attorneys alleged prosecutors knew about the false testimony but remained silent about it. In his ruling, Godbey said the expert’s testimony “was quite possibly harmless” and even if it had been corrected, it would not have changed the jury’s decision to sentence Ruiz to death.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday unanimously declined to commute Ruiz’s death sentence to a lesser penalty.
Ruiz was one of five Texas death row inmates who sued to stop the state’s prison system from using what they allege are expired and unsafe execution drugs. Despite a civil court judge in Austin preliminarily agreeing with the claims, the state’s top two courts allowed one of the inmates who had been part of the litigation to be executed on Jan. 10.
Prison officials deny the lawsuit’s claims and say the state’s supply of execution drugs is safe.
At his trial, Ruiz testified he was afraid for his life when he fired in self-defense on Nix after the officer allegedly threatened to kill him. He also said he believed police fired their weapons first.
“I didn’t try to kill the officer. I just tried to stop him,” Ruiz testified.
Ruiz also said he fled from police that day because he had illegal drugs in his car and had taken drugs.
Gabriel Luchiano, who knew Nix when he worked as a security guard, said the officer always responded quickly when people needed help at the convenience store in northwest Dallas where Luchiano worked.
He was a “guardian angel,” said Luchiano. “It’s still painful no matter what. Nothing is going to close it.”