A Texas man faces execution by lethal injection this evening for the 1993 Christmas Eve killings of a father and two children.
Shannon Charles Thomas, 34, would be the 19th Texas prisoner executed this year and the second in as many nights.
Habitual drug user Robert Dale Rowell, 50, was executed yesterday for the murders of two people at a Houston crack house 12 years ago.
“I would like to apologise to the victims’ family and all the grief I have caused them,” Rowell said in a brief final statement as the mother, sister and brother of one of his victims watched through a window.
“I would like to say I love the girls next to them,” he said, referring to six women he selected to watch him die.
Several of them sobbed.
Then he said, “Praise the Lord. Let’s go warden. That’s it.”
Rowell snorted twice as the drugs began taking effect. He was pronounced dead nine minutes later at 6.24pm (0024GMT).
Thomas and an accomplice, Keith Bernard Clay, were arrested two years after the 1993 Christmas Eve murders in Baytown of Roberto Rios, 32; his 11-year-old son, Victor, and 10-year-old daughter, Maria.
Rios was shot, beaten and stabbed, with a steak knife left in his neck. The children had been shot in the head.
Thomas’ execution would come almost three years after Clay was put to death for the beating and fatal shooting of a Baytown convenience store clerk two weeks after the Rios slayings.
Authorities said Clay was the shooter in that case, while Thomas waited outside in a car.
Thomas was charged in that murder, but was not tried.
The US Supreme Court earlier this year refused to consider an appeal from Thomas. His lawyers were back in the courts this week trying to get the punishment delayed.
Prosecutors said Thomas and Clay showed up at the home of Rios, described as a small-time marijuana dealer, tied him to a chair with duct tape, and then beat him and stabbed him with scissors in an effort to get drugs and money.
“The family went over later that evening to take presents and they found bodies,” said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Marie Munier.
Baytown Police Detective Randy Rhodes still recalls the crime scene from 12 years ago: “Upstairs, you find two children, a little boy and little girl, Christmas presents around, school awards on the walls. They were just laid down and shot in the back of the head … For the rest of my life, Christmas is going to be associated with those kids.”
Thomas declined to speak with reporters in the weeks before his scheduled punishment.
On a website where death row inmates seek pen pals, he described himself as “a very honest person and those are the type of people with whom I choose to associate myself with.”
One more execution is scheduled in Texas this year. Convicted killer Tony Ford is set to die on December 7 for the killing of an El Paso man during a home robbery a week before Christmas in 1991.
If carried out, the 20 lethal injections would be three less than a year ago and the fewest for a year in Texas since 17 inmates were executed in 2001. A record 40 were executed in 2000.
Rowell had already been to prison, where records showed he fatally stabbed a fellow inmate while serving a sentence for robbery, and was free under mandatory supervision when he was arrested for the 1993 shooting spree that sent him to death row.
The US Supreme Court last month refused to review Rowell’s case and no late legal attempts were made to spare him.
Raymond Mata, 38, and Irvin Wright, 52, were killed on May 10, 1993, when Rowell showed up at Wright’s house before dawn complaining about paying too much for some crack cocaine. Mata also was living there with his wife, Angie Perez.
Wright was beaten with a claw hammer. Then all three were herded into a bathroom where they were shot in a bathtub. Perez was seriously wounded, but survived to testify against him.
Witnesses at his trial described Rowell as depressed, introverted, psychopathic and a chronic drug user who turned violent while under the influence of drugs.