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Texas inmate set for execution for $8 robbery, slaying

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    Death row inmate Juan Garcia is photographed in a visiting cage at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit near Livingston
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HOUSTON » No late appeals have been filed on behalf of a Texas inmate who says he shouldn’t die for fatally shooting a Mexican man who was robbed of $8.

Juan Martin Garcia’s execution is scheduled for Tuesday. He was convicted of capital murder for the September 1998 killing and robbery of Hugh Solano in Houston, where Solano had moved with his family weeks earlier.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Garcia’s case in March. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a 5-2 vote, refused a clemency request from Garcia last week.

Garcia acknowledges shooting Solano outside Solano’s apartment complex, but insists it’s not a capital case and that jurors penalized him unfairly because he didn’t take the witness stand in his own defense at trial.

"If it’s God’s will, it’s his will," Garcia, 35, told The Associated Press last month in a prison interview near Livingston.

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.

"At least I’m going home and I won’t have to suffer this pain anymore, because I know that as the Bible says there is an afterlife with no problems and no sorrow," said Garcia, who spoke to the AP on a phone inside a caged-in visitors’ area outside the state’s death row. "And that’s all I look forward to."

Evidence at his 2000 trial and testimony from a companion identified him as the ringleader of four men involved in the shooting and robbery. 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.

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, from prison, said it was Mendoza who came up with the idea to rob Solano and that Solano escalated the confrontation by resisting.

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

Solano was shot four times in the head and neck.

Garcia was arrested more than a week later when he dropped a gun while getting out of a car that police had pulled over for a broken headlight. He was released but arrested again when the gun was matched to Solano’s slaying.

Evidence and testimony tied him to at least eight aggravated robberies and two attempted capital murders in the weeks before and after Solano’s death.

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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