Joseph Garcia was four years into a 50-year sentence for a 1996 Bexar County murder when he joined six other inmates who escaped prison, went on the run and killed Irving Police officer Aubrey Hawkins in a Christmas Eve robbery.
Texas executed the 47-year-old Garcia on Tuesday, almost 18 years after he and the other inmates known as the "Texas Seven" construed a detailed plan to break out of the Connally Unit in Karnes County. On the afternoon of Dec. 13, 2000, the seven men overpowered prison workers, took their uniforms, stole 14 handguns, a shotgun, an AR-15 rifle and more than 100 rounds of ammunition before fleeing north in a prison truck.
The escaped prisoners managed to avoid law enforcement until Christmas Eve, when a botched robbery at a sporting goods store in Irving resulted in a shootout between the escaped convicts and Hawkins.
During the robbery, a witness called 911 and Hawkins arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. According to court records, Hawkins was killed within minutes of arriving on the scene. Five of the escaped inmates simultaneously opened fire against the officer, who was shot nearly a dozen times.
Garcia’s attorneys long claimed that their client was not one of the five who fired at 29-year-old Hawkins, and that he was not in the vicinity during the shootout.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” Garcia said in a recent Houston Chronicle interview. “I wish I could take everything back.”
The “Texas Seven” quickly fled the scene and drove to Colorado, where they hid out in an RV park until January. By then, their story had made national headlines and group member Larry Harper had killed himself.
The remaining men were brought to trial in Dallas, and because of Texas’ law of parties — which holds all individuals responsible for a crime, regardless of their role — the six were convicted of capital murder. Garcia was sentenced to death in February 2003.
Garcia was the fourth "Texas Seven" member executed. Michael Rodriguez, George Rivas and Donald Newbury were executed between 2008 and 2015. Patrick Murphy and Randy Halprin are awaiting execution dates.
In repeatedly rejected appeals filed to both state and federal courts since his sentencing, Garcia’s lawyers argued that the Dallas County prosecutor, Toby Shook, portrayed Garcia as a “callous and cold-hearted killer” based off “false” testimony from his original Bexar County District Court trial, when Garcia was sentenced in November 1996 for the fatal stabbing of Miguel Luna in San Antonio.
But Shook said his job was to prove that Garcia posed a future danger to the public, and the 1996 sentencing lent easy evidence to the 2003 murder trial.