Lionell Gonzales Rodriguez, 36, was executed by lethal injection on 20 June 2007 in Huntsville, Texas for the murder and robbery of a 22-year-old woman at a traffic intersection.
On 5 September 1990, Rodriguez, then 19, and his cousin, James Gonzales, 18, were driving in Houston with a shotgun and .30-caliber rifle in their car. They pulled up next to another car that was stopped for a red light at an intersection. Rodriguez, who was in the passenger's seat, aimed the rifle across Gonzales while he leaned back in the driver's seat. Rodriguez then fired once at the driver of the other car. The bullet passed through the other car's passenger window and hit the driver, Tracy Gee, 22, in the right temple, killing her. Rodriguez then got out of his car, pushed Gee's body out onto the pavement, and drove away in her car, with Gonzales following.
Soon afterward, police officer Theron Runnels pulled Gonzales over for driving with no taillights. Gonzales exited his car and initially approached Officer Runnels, but then he ran. After a chase, a second officer, Randy West, arrested him. In the meantime, Runnels found the M-1 carbine rifle and the shotgun in his car. When West brought Gonzales back to the car, Gonzales blurted out, "I did not kill that girl. It was my cousin." Rodriguez was arrested four hours later in Fort Bend County while driving Gee's car. His pants and the interior of the car were soaked with blood, and he had bone and brain matter clotted in his hair.
Rodriguez gave a full confession. He said that earlier that night, he had a fight with his mother and sister. He then stole the rifle and shotgun from his stepfather. He and Gonzales then drove around Houston, looking for a place to rob. They contemplated robbing a gas station, but the station was too busy, and they lost their nerve. Rodriguez then became angry at another driver and fired several shots at him in a residential neighborhood. When he noticed a young woman sitting alone in her car, he decided to rob her. He said that he was aiming for the victim's shoulder, but shot her in the temple.
In addition to the above evidence and confession, police found gunpowder residue in Gonzales' car.
Rodriguez had prior convictions for burglary and cocaine possession. He served 3½ months of a 4-year sentence before receiving parole. (At the time, early release was common in Texas due to strict prison population caps imposed by U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice.) He had been on parole for about three weeks when he killed Tracy Gee.
Other witnesses testified to Rodriguez's violent temper at his punishment hearing. The other driver who Rodriguez fired shots at on the night of the murder also testified against him, as did another witness who testified that Rodriguez once assaulted him and hit his car with a baseball bat. Deputies at the Harris County Jail testified that Rodriguez was classified as an escape threat and as "aggressive towards staff," and was always put in leg irons and handcuffs when being moved.
A jury convicted Rodriguez of capital murder in May 1991 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his conviction in December 1993 because the jury cards - which determine the order in which potential jurors are considered for the panel - were shuffled twice. Rodriguez was tried again and in September 1994 was again found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death. The TCCA affirmed this conviction and sentence in February 1997. All of his subsequent appeals in state and federal court were denied.
James Gonzales was convicted of aggravated robbery and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He remains in custody as of this writing.
In an interview from death row the week before his execution, Rodriguez said that on the night of the murder, he and his cousin decided to go and act out some fantasies from the movies. After backing out on robbing a gas station and shooting at a motorist, they saw their car was running low on gas, and spotted Gee alone in her car.
"It should've never happened," Rodriguez said in the interview. "Not only did I bring so much pain and heartache to the Gee family, but also to my family. I destroyed two families ... Of all the pain I caused, I'm ashamed." Rodriguez said he hoped that the victim's family could forgive him. He also said that he matured and became more spiritual over the past 17 years and did not want people to think of him as a monster. "Don't make me look any worse than I already do," he pleaded to a reporter.
At Rodriguez' second trial, jurors heard testimony from defense witnesses about how he had changed in the 2½ years since his first trial, but the jury nevertheless found that he was a continuing danger to society. "People on juries ... they actually believe we'll never change for the better." Rodriguez said. "They figure we're better off dead. But people change with time."
At his execution, Rodriguez, strapped to the gurney, craned his head to face the victim's family members who attended. "You have every right to hate me.. You have every right to want to see this," he said to them in his last statement. "I couldn't do this in a letter. I had to do this face to face, eye to eye. None of this should have happened." He said he hoped that the family could forgive him. "I'm responsible. I'm responsible. I'm sorry to you all. This never should've happened. To ... my family, you all don't deserve to see this [but] it is the right thing to do." Rodriguez also thanked his family members and told them, "We will see each other again." As the lethal injection was started, he whispered, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." He was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 21 June 2007.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Houston Chronicle, Huntsville Item.