MOUNT VERNON, Texas, May 9 (UPI) -- A jury Thursday sentenced to death the third of seven Texas convicts who escaped from a state prison and killed a police officer during a Christmas Eve robbery two years ago near Dallas.
Michael Rodriguez, 39, was convicted of capital murder last week in the slaying of police officer Aubrey Hawkins, who was ambushed and shot 11 times when he drove up on the escaped convicts as they fled the holdup at a sporting goods store in Irving.
Rodriguez, who was serving a life sentence when he broke out of a South Texas prison, appeared to smile when the jury's verdict was announced. George Rivas and Donald Newbury, who escaped with Rodriguez, are already on Texas death row for the murder.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Toby Shook told the jury that Rodriguez had already proved that he would be a future danger to society in prison because he was serving a life sentence when he escaped in 2000 and participated in the murder of Hawkins.
"His mind is dangerous, folks, and it will remain dangerous until he's executed," he said.
Defense attorney Michael Carlton said Rodriguez would be confined in his own cell under administrative segregation because of his record. He said the convicted killer would be allowed out of his cell only for exercise each day.
During the trial, Carlton argued that Rodriguez was not among the leaders of the escape and he did not plan to kill the officer. "In the panic of the situation, Mr. Rodriguez discharged his gun, but not with the intent to kill," he said.
Rodriguez was a key figure in the escape from the Connally Prison in South Texas in December 2000. His father, Raul Rodriguez, allegedly provided the getaway car the escapees switched to shortly after the breakout. His father is awaiting trial.
Rodriguez was serving a life prison sentence at San Antonio for hiring the murderer of his wife in 1992.
The escaped convicts, who became known as the Texas Seven during a nationwide manhunt, were cornered near Colorado Springs in February 2001 where they had been posing as missionaries. One of them committed suicide when the escapees were surrounded.
Dallas County plans to prosecute the surviving six on capital murder charges and seek the death penalty in each case. The Rodriguez trial was moved to Mount Vernon, 100 miles east of Dallas, because of intense publicity in the Dallas area.