With the second-to-last surviving member of the Texas Seven gang of prison escapees sent to be executed later this month, the case is shaping up to be a test of Texas' controversial 'law of parties,' News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The "Texas Seven' were seven violent criminals, including San Antonian Michael Rodriguez, who was serving life in prison for the contract murder of his wife, who broke out of the Connally Prison Unit in Kenedy County in 2000. They later murdered an Irving Police Officer while they were robbing a sporting goods store in the Dallas suburb in a robbery that netted several firearms.
Six of the seven were apprehended in Colorado after just three weeks on the run. The seventh man killed himself as police moved in.
Three of the escapees, including Rodriguez, have already been executed, and Patrick Murphy's death sentence for the murder of the officer, Aubrey Hawkins, is set to be carried out March 29th.
But defense lawyers say Murphy was not involved in the murder of Officer Hawkins, and he wasn't even in the store when the officer was killed. He was the lookout who waited in the escapee's stolen car.
But Toby Shook, who prosecuted Murphy, says defense lawyers have picked the wrong man if they hope to make a martyr out of Murphy.
"He gave a written confession that said he had an AR-15, a loaded shotgun, and two revolvers with him in the car, and he was prepared to start a firefight if officers started approaching, to let the others get away," Shook told News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The Law of Parties allows anybody who participated in the commission of a crime, even those who did not actually commit the crime and may not have known that a crime was even being committed, to suffer the same punishment as the perpetrator.
But Shook ays the Law of Parties was written specifically for people like Murphy, who facilitated the murder of Officer Hawkins, even if he wasn't actually the person who pulled the trigger.
"They wanted a poster boy for opposition to an accomplice getting the death penalty," Shook said. "They picked the wrong guy to be their poster boy."
A similar effort is being raised on behalf of Jeff Wood, a Kerrville man who has been on death row since the 1990s for the murder of a gas station clerk during a robbery. Wood said he drove a friend to the station for, what he thought, was to be the purchase of some beer. While in the store, Wood's friend, Jeff Reneau, stole the station's safe and shot the clerk, Kirs Keeran, 31, when he didn't move quickly enough in response to his demands. Reneau was executed in 2002.
Prosecutors in that case, just like in the Murphy case, argue that Wood was a 'getaway driver,' a charge Wood denies, and without Wood's cooperation, Keeran would not have been killed, justifying the death penalty.
Some supporters of capital punishment are taking Murphy's side, They say Texas' liberal application of the Law of Parties in capital cases is diminishing support of the public, and of the public who serve on juries, for the death penalty generally.