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Supreme Court denies Texas inmate a stay of execution

September 20, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

HOUSTON -- A former Dallas-area car wash employee on death row for killing two co-workers after he was fired in 2000 failed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution Thursday.

Robert Wayne Harris, 40, is to die at 6 p.m., Texas corrections officials said.

He originally confessed to fatally shooting five people at the Mi-T-Fine car wash in Irving. He was charged in connection with all five deaths but tried in only two.

His attorney argued in two petitions to the Supreme Court that Harris should not be executed because he is mentally impaired and did not receive a fair trial.

The court denied both requests Thursday in brief, two-sentence orders that offered no explanation.

“He’s being put to death without a fair trial,” attorney Lydia Brandt told the Los Angeles Times after receiving the orders within hours of Harris' scheduled execution. “In every single phase of the trial he did not receive what the law promised him.”

Harris would be the eighth Texas inmate executed this year and the 485th since the state replaced the electric chair with lethal injection in 1982.

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.

She also noted Harris’ low IQ and cited a 2002 Supreme Court decision barring execution of the mentally impaired. Tests show Harris has an IQ of 68; normal is considered 100.

She said she was expecting a call from Harris late Thursday, but had not yet shared news of the court's ruling with him.

The Texas attorney general’s office has opposed 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  after Supreme Court ruling 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.

A week later, Harris returned to the car wash before it opened, ordered the staff 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 Rhoda Wheeler, 46, a cashier. 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.

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