In Death, Garza Seeks Forgiveness

ByABC News

June 19, 2001 -- Juan Raul Garza, a convicted murderer and drug kingpin, apologized and asked for forgiveness before he was executed this morning in a federal penitentiary.

Garza, 44, received the first of three drugs administered in the lethal injection at 7:06 a.m. CT and was pronounced dead at 7:09 a.m. He became the second federal inmate to die in eight days in the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed in the same death chamber on June 11. McVeigh was the first federal inmate put to death since 1963.

"I wish to say I'm sorry," Garza said in his final statement, according to media witnesses. "I apologize for all the pain and grief I caused. I ask for forgiveness. I ask for forgiveness and God bless."

Harley Lappin, the prison warden, said he and Garza "chatted several times" this morning before the execution, talking about friends, family and the religious counseling the inmate received in his final days.

"He was cooperative throughout the entire operation," Lappin said.

First Drug Kingpin Execution

On Monday, Garza exhausted his final hopes that his life would be spared.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to postpone Garza's execution and rejected his final legal appeals. One appeal said a jury should have been told that the alternative to a death sentence was life in prisonwithout the possibility of parole.

In another appeal, Garza's lawyers argued that his death sentence violates international human rights treaties.

Later, President Bush rejected Garza's request for clemency, setting the stage for his execution.

Garza was convicted in 1993 for killing one man and ordering the deaths of two others he believed were government informants while running a marijuana smuggling ring in Brownsville, Texas.

Garza was the first federal inmate executed under a 1988 federal drug kingpin statute.

Request for Clemency to President Bush

The Justice Department had rejected all of Garza's arguments for a stay of execution or clemency.

In papers filed with the court, Solicitor General Theodore Olson asked the justices to reject Garza's treaty-based appeal, saying neither the charter of the Organization of American States nor the human rights compact American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man applies to Garza's case.

Justice officials also had urged the justices to reject Garza's first appeal involving what the jury should have been told.

In his clemency petition, asking the White House to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole, Garza's attorneys focused on a report issued on June 6 by Attorney General John Ashcroft finding no racial and regional disparities in the federal death penalty system. Garza's attorneys called the report misleading and said they didn't know how the government could proceed with the execution when Ashcroft is ordering further study of the racial bias issue.

Garza was born in Mexico but was a U.S. citizen.

Ashcroft, who recommended the execution move forward, said on Monday: "Juan Raul Garza's guilt is not in doubt."

Clinton Delayed Execution Twice

On Monday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said race played no role in Garza's case. "The facts speak for themselves," he said. "All of the jurors individually certified that race, color, religious belief, national origin and sex were not involved in reaching their respective decisions."

The prosecutor, judge and at least six of the jurors were also Hispanic, Fleischer added.

Last year, then-President Clinton delayed Garza's execution two times. Citing new procedures for presidential clemency, Clinton first put off the execution last August.

Last December, Clinton postponed the execution a second time. At the time, White House officials said the president wanted to give Justice Department officials more time to finish their studies into the fairness of the death penalty.

A few months earlier, a Justice Department study found racial and geographic disparities in federal death sentences. Of the 19 men under death sentence at the penitentiary in Terre Haute at the time, only four were white. Since then, McVeigh, who was white, was executed.

Anti-death penalty groups have cited the racial bias issue as one more reason to stop federal executions for good. In recent years, calls for a moratorium on federal executions have grown in number, but neither Clinton nor former Attorney General Janet Reno agreed there was a basis to end all executions.

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