HOUSTON (AP) — A man convicted of fatally shooting a Dallas police officer nearly 16 years ago faces execution on Wednesday.
Wesley Ruiz, 43, is set to receive a lethal injection for the March 2007 killing of Dallas Police Senior Corporal Mark Nix.
Ruiz had led officers on a high-speed chase after being spotted driving a car that matched the description of one used by a murder suspect. Authorities said Nix tried to break the vehicle’s passenger window after the chase ended and that Ruiz fired one shot. The bullet hit Nix’s badge, splintered it and sent fragments that severed an artery in his neck. Nix later died in a hospital.
The 33-year-old officer was a U.S. Navy veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He’d been on the Dallas force for nearly seven years and was engaged to be married when he was killed.
Ruiz’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, which was scheduled for Wednesday evening at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. They argue that jurors relied on “overtly racist” and “blatant anti-Hispanic stereotypes” in appraising whether Ruiz would be a future danger, an element needed to secure a death sentence in Texas. Ruiz is Hispanic.
Last week, U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas denied a request to stay Ruiz’s execution, saying his attorneys failed to show that jurors made statements during trial that showed “overt racial bias.” On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a similar stay request based on alleged racial bias. The appeals court did not consider the merits of the claim, but rejected it on procedural grounds.
Ruiz’s attorneys have previously argued unsuccessfully that an expert witness for the prosecution falsely testified at Ruiz’s 2008 trial about whether he would be a future danger. Defense attorneys alleged prosecutors knew about the false testimony and remained silent. In his ruling, Godbey said the expert testimony “was quite possibly harmless” and even if the testimony was corrected, it would not have changed the jury’s decision to sentence Ruiz to death.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday unanimously declined to commute Ruiz’s death sentence to a lesser penalty.
Ruiz is one of five Texas death row inmates who are suing to stop the state’s prison system from using what they allege are expired and unsafe execution drugs. Despite a civil court judge in Austin preliminarily agreeing with the claims, the state’s top two courts allowed one inmate who had been part of the litigation to be executed on Jan. 10.
Prison officials deny the lawsuit’s claims and say the state’s supply of execution drugs is safe.
At his trial, Ruiz testified he was afraid for his life and only fired in self-defense after Nix allegedly threatened to kill him. The defendant also said he believed police fired their weapons first.
“I didn’t try to kill the officer. I just tried to stop him,” Ruiz testified.
Ruiz said he fled police that day because he had illegal drugs in his car and had taken drugs.
Gabriel Luchiano, who knew Nix when the officer worked as a security guard, said he always responded quickly when people needed help at the convenience store in northwest Dallas where Luchiano worked.
He was a “guardian angel,” said Luchiano, 55. “It’s still painful no matter what. Nothing is going to close it.”
Ruiz would be the second inmate put to death this year in Texas and the fourth in the U.S. Seven other executions are scheduled in Texas for later this year, including one next week.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: twitter.com/juanlozano70