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Texas inmate facing execution for $8 robbery, slaying in Houston says he doesn't deserve death


HOUSTON — A Texas inmate set to be executed Tuesday acknowledges fatally shooting a Mexican man who was robbed of $8 and had just moved his family to Houston, but insists he doesn't deserve to die for the killing 17 years ago.

"This is not a capital case," Juan Martin Garcia, 35, told The Associated Press last month in a prison interview near Livingston. "I got railroaded since I didn't take the stand (to testify at trial)."

Evidence at his 2000 capital murder trial and testimony from a companion identified him as the ringleader of four men involved in the September 1998 shooting and robbery of Hugo Solano outside Solano's apartment complex. The slaying and a string of other violent crimes tied to Garcia, who was 18 at the time of the killing, convinced a jury he should be put to death.

His lethal injection to be held in Huntsville would be the 11th this year in Texas, which carries out capital punishment more than any other state. Three more executions are scheduled in upcoming weeks.

No late appeals seeking to block the execution were in the courts on Monday. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a clemency petition for Garcia on Friday.

Garcia, his two cousins and another man had already carried out a carjacking when they spotted Solano during the early morning hours of Sept. 17, 1998, getting into his van to go to work, according to the evidence. Solano's relatives said the 36-year-old, who did Christian missionary work in Guadalajara, Mexico, had moved with his wife to Houston weeks earlier so their children could be educated in the U.S.

Eleazar Mendoza, who pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 55 years in prison, testified that Garcia approached Solano and pointed a gun. Mendoza said Garcia gave Solano orders in Spanish to surrender any money he had and then shot him when he refused.

Garcia, who spoke to the AP on a phone inside a caged-in visitors' area outside the state's death row, said it was Mendoza who came up with the idea to rob Solano and that Solano escalated the confrontation by resisting.

"He punches me. First thing that came through my mind is that the dude is going to try to kill me," Garcia said. "He grabbed the gun with both of his hands and it discharged."

Solano was shot four times in the head and neck. Garcia said he didn't rob Solano.

"My dad used to beat me," Garcia said. "When that guy hit me, I was high on drugs and the first person I saw was my dad. So I kept shooting."

Court records show Garcia was in a car that was pulled over for a broken headlight more than a week after the killing. He was arrested for possession of a handgun when the weapon hit the floorboard as he was getting out of the car. He was released but arrested again later on an escape warrant as a juvenile fugitive when the gun was matched to Solano's slaying.

At Garcia's trial in Houston, authorities tied him to at least eight aggravated robberies and two attempted capital murders in the weeks before and after Solano's death. He also had an extensive juvenile record starting at age 12.

Another defendant, Raymond McBen, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was paroled a year ago.

The fourth man charged, Gabriel Morales, went to trial and was sentenced to life on a capital murder conviction.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: Death row inmate Juan Garcia is photographed in a visiting cage Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit near Livingston, Texas. Garcia, 35, from Houston, is facing execution Oct. 6, 2015, for the 1998 robbery and fatal shooting of Hugo Solano, 36.  Evidence showed Garcia and three companions stole $8 from the victim. (AP Photo/Mike Graczyk)
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