After 15 years of court battles, Gustavo Garcia became the sixth person put to death in 2016, for the murder of a liquor store clerk. And he’s the subject of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s final legal action.
Just three days before his own death, Scalia denied Garcia’s plea for a stay of execution.
Garcia’s final words on Tuesday night were: “To my family, to my mom, I love you. God bless you. Stay strong. I’m done.”
He was 18 years old when he fatally shot two store clerks in Plano, Texas: Craig Turski and Gregory Martin. Turski was shot in the abdomen during a liquor store robbery in December 1990. When he tried to run, Garcia shot him in the back of the head.
The teenager was caught during a second robbery attempt one month later. In January 1991, Garcia and accomplice Christopher Vargas entered the gas station where Gregory Martin worked. Martin was on the phone at the time and asked his girlfriend to call the police, fearing he was about to be robbed. Garcia moved Martin to a separate room and shot him point blank in the head. When police arrived at the scene, they found Garcia hiding near the firearm, which they linked to Turski’s murder.
Garcia was informed of his Miranda rights while he was in police custody, but he ultimately confessed to both murders verbally and in writing. He went to trial for killing Turski and was sentenced to capital punishment at the end of 1991.
In a surprising twist three years later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction because the written confession was missing language required by Texas to make the statement valid. The document that Garcia signed and initialed didn’t explicitly mention that he was “[knowingly], [intelligently], and [voluntarily]” waiving the right to remain silent during the interrogation process. Garcia was subsequently given a second hearing and re-sentenced to death.
Then in 2001, Garcia got another break. John Cornyn, Texas’ former attorney general, ordered new sentencing hearings for Garcia and five other convicted murderers who were racially profiled in court. In all six cases, a psychologist argued that the defendants posed a threat to society because they were Hispanic. Cornyn believed that racial bias should not have played a role in the sentencing, and Garcia was given another chance at a lesser punishment. But he was sentenced to die again.
Thereafter, Garcia fought the execution on the grounds that he received deficient counsel. He claimed his lawyer never objected to introducing the confessions in court, and that he was unable to read the confession because he is “legally blind.”
Scalia denied Garcia’s final appeal for a stay of execution last Wednesday.
The late justice’s order was consistent with his unrelenting stance on capital punishment. Scalia was always a staunch supporter of executions, even in cases where there was strong evidence to suggest a person’s innocence or reason to believe that a commonly used lethal injection cocktail causes the sensation of being burned alive.