A San Antonio man who fatally shot a SWAT team member with the officer's own gun more than 14 years ago was executed Wednesday, the sixth convicted murderer put to death in Texas so far this year.
Manuel Garza Jr. received a lethal injection of pentobarbital for killing San Antonio Police Officer John "Rocky" Riojas in February 2001. The U.S. Supreme Court had refused in November to review his case, and no last-day appeals were filed before his execution.
Asked to make a final statement, Garza said he was sorry for causing pain to his family, friends and "especially police officers."
"Y'all probably hate me," he said, looking at three friends of his victim, dressed in their navy blue San Antonio police uniforms. He wished them "peace and love and hope y'all find God like I have and I'll see you on the other side."
As the lethal drug began taking effect, Garza uttered: "Here it comes!" His voice rose as he said "Good bye," and then he let out a howl that was cut short within seconds as he took three deep breaths, then a couple shallow ones. He was pronounced dead 26 minutes later at 6:40 p.m. CDT.
Garza, 35, already had a long criminal record at age 20 when he was stopped by Riojas, who was part of a team targeting property crimes at apartment complexes. Garza ran off and witnesses say that when Riojas caught up with him, the two struggled and Garza grabbed the officer's gun.
Riojas, 37, was fatally shot in the head. Witnesses said Garza put Riojas' gun in his pants, cursed at the fallen officer, and ran away. Garza was apprehended a day later at his sister's apartment after an informant told detectives that someone had tried to sell him the officer's missing semi-automatic service weapon.
In a statement to detectives, Garza blamed Riojas. "I truly think this was the cop's fault," he said. "I don't see why he wanted to pull out his gun." Garza said he initially ran because he feared the officer would discover he was wanted on outstanding warrants.
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