By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Texas - Condemned prisoner Michael Rodriguez sees his execution as a chance to make amends for some very bad decisions.
His first bad decision led to the murder of his wife. The second made him a key partner in one of Texas' most notorious prison breaks and ultimately cost the life of a Dallas-area police officer gunned down by the gang of fugitives who became known as the "Texas 7."
"Sadly, a lot of people got hurt," Rodriguez, who for two years has been pushing for his own lethal injection that's set for Thursday, told The Associated Press from outside death row. "I think it's a fair sentence. I need to pay back. I can't pay back monetarily. This is the way."
Rodriguez, 45, would be the first of the six surviving members of the infamous "Texas 7" - seven convicts who broke out of a South Texas prison in December 2000 - to be executed.
The gang was captured in Colorado after six weeks on the run. One of them, Larry Harper, killed himself rather than surrender to authorities, but not before they all were involved in the fatal shooting of Aubrey Hawkins, an Irving policeman, during a Christmas Eve robbery of a sporting goods store in the Dallas suburb.
"I'm glad we got caught, so no one else would get hurt," Rodriguez said in an interview at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, home to death row.
His five remaining accomplices - George Rivas, Randy Halprin, Donald Newbury, Joseph Garcia and Patrick Murphy - also are there and awaiting the outcome of appeals. None of them has an execution date.
Rodriguez would be the eighth prisoner executed in the nation's most active capital punishment state this year and the second this week. On Tuesday, Leon Dorsey was put to death for a 1994 robbery at a Dallas video store where two employees were gunned down. Two more executions are scheduled in Texas for next week.
Rodriguez's punishment was expected to draw dozens of police officers to Huntsville to stand vigil outside the prison while Hawkins' widow, Lori, was inside watching the convicted killer die.
"I'll be there," she said. "Absolutely. I wouldn't miss this."
Lori Hawkins credited Rodriguez with being "the first one to really admit his guilt" but said his words of apology were "a little too late."
"It didn't have to happen," she said of the fatal shooting of her husband of four years. "Aubrey didn't need to die."
Rodriguez has been pushing for his own death for more than two years, starting in early 2006 with a hand-printed letter mailed to the federal courthouse in Dallas.
"I am a college graduate and have no delusions what will occur as an end result of these proceedings," Rodriguez wrote in the first of an almost monthly series of letters that wound up before a federal judge.
After hearings to ensure Rodriguez was competent to make that kind of decision, his plea to drop appeals and be put to death finally was approved Sept. 27, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a Kentucky case that stopped all executions in the country with a challenge arguing the method was unconstitutionally cruel.
"It was frustrating," Rodriguez said of the execution halt. "It's hard to sit back and see where they stopped it and not know if they would start if again. I did everything I could, and it was stopped. At some point, you just sit back and laugh."
When the justices in April upheld the method as proper, Rodriguez's death date was set for Thursday.
"I'm ready to go, to be accountable," he said from death row.
Toby Shook, a former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Rodriguez, said he thought the former restaurant operator in San Antonio was being "very pragmatic."
"It's going to happen," Shook said, describing the case against him and the other former fugitives as "iron tight."
"He's able to at least make one decision on his own," Shook said. "He's choosing the time."
The seven prisoners overpowered workers at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Connally Unit near Kenedy in South Texas on Dec. 13, 2000, took the workers' clothes, then grabbed 16 guns from the prison armory and fled in a stolen truck. They ditched that truck for another that had been left for them at a Wal-Mart store a few miles away. Rodriguez's father later would be convicted of providing that vehicle.
Then 12 days later, while robbing an Irving sporting goods store of cash, clothing and more weapons, they killed Hawkins, who was shot 11 times and then run over with his own patrol car.
They were captured another four weeks later in Colorado.
At the time of the escape, Rodriguez was serving a life term for hiring a hit man to kill his wife, Theresa, 29, to collect her $250,000 life insurance. She was gunned down in 1992 getting out of her car outside their San Antonio home. The triggerman, Rolando Ruiz, also is on death row.
Rodiguez was taking college classes at the time and said he'd been smitten with a younger female student.