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Texas executes Robert Wayne Harris

September 20, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

HOUSTON -- Texas executed its eighth inmate this year on Thursday, a former Dallas-area car wash employee convicted of killing two co-workers a week after he was fired in 2000.

Robert Wayne Harris, 40, was executed in Huntsville at 6:43 p.m. with a lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital.

His last statement: “I want to let y'all  know that I love you, Billy, I love you, English, Hart and Eloise.  Dwight, take care of Dwight.  I'm going home, I'm going home.  I'll be all right, don't worry, I love y'all.  God Bless and the Texas Rangers, Texas Rangers.”

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied requests for a stay of execution. Harris had confessed to killing five people at the Mi-T-Fine car wash in Irving, Texas, on March 20, 2000, and was charged in connection with all five, but tried for just two.

Harris' attorney, Lydia Brandt, had argued in a petition submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court this month that Harris' execution should be stayed because, at the time of his trial, prosecutors improperly removed all of the potential jurors who were black, like Harris.

Brandt also petitioned the court for the stay based on Harris’  low IQ, citing a 2002 Supreme Court decision barring execution of the mentally impaired. Tests showed Harris had an IQ of 68;  normal is considered 100.

The Texas attorney general’s office opposed the appeals for a stay, noting that judges had rejected tests purporting to demonstrate Harris’ mental impairment and that race did not taint his jury selection. A spokesman for the office declined to comment about the case Thursday.

Harris had been working at the car wash for about 10 months when he was fired and arrested after exposing himself to a female customer on March 15, 2000, according to the Texas attorney general’s office. The following Monday, Harris returned to the car wash before it opened, ordered staffers to open the safe and then shot the manager, his assistant, a cashier and three more employees who showed up later.

Prosecutors tried Harris for two of the killings: Agustin Villasenor, 36, the assistant manager, and cashier Rhoda Wheeler, 46. Harris was charged but not tried for killing Villasenor’s brother, Benjamin, 32, an employee; Dennis Lee, 48, the car wash manager, and Roberto Jimenez Jr., 15, another employee. One victim survived with permanent disabilities.

Harris was the 485th inmate executed since Texas switched to lethal injection from electrocution in 1982.

This summer, Texas corrections officials were forced to modify the three-drug lethal injection procedure used since 1982 because the agency’s stockpile of pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, had expired and they were unable to replace it. In  March, the state had to replace another drug, sodium thiopental, with pentobarbital after the U.S. supplier of the former drug halted distribution amid international protests.

Switching to pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal, raised the cost of drugs for each execution from $83.55 to $1,286.86.

Opponents of capital punishment had hoped the drug costs and shortages would slow executions. But that hasn’t happened.

Texas officials say they have sufficient amounts of pentobarbital to carry out planned executions, including 11 scheduled through February. The next one is scheduled Tuesday.

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