Texas killer executed despite unusual plea

May 22, 2002 at 9:26 PM
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HUNTSVILLE, Texas, May 22 (UPI) -- A convicted killer was executed Wednesday in Texas despite an unusual plea from the victim's mother that his sentence be commuted to life in prison.

Johnny Joe Martinez, 29, was pronounced dead at 6:30 p.m. CDT after receiving a lethal injection for the murder of convenience store clerk Clay Peterson during a robbery nine years ago in Corpus Christi.

In his final statement, Martinez apologized to the victim's family, repeatedly thanked his appellate lawyer David Dow, and his friends and relatives.

"I want to thank David Dow; you have been great to me and I know that I am fixing to die -- but not for my mistakes," he said. "My trial lawyers, they are the ones that are killing me."

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier Wednesday rejected Martinez' last-ditch appeals, including an unusual civil rights lawsuit charging that Texas death row inmates are not being provided with competent counsel during the crucial state appeals process.

A 1995 state law required that all death row inmates be provided with competent counsel, but that is not happening, the lawsuit argued. The Texas Court of Criminals Appeals, the state's highest criminal appeals court, was named in the lawsuit.

"It's clear the Legislature intended that death row prisoners get at least one fair review of their cases," said Jim Marcus, executive director of the Texas Defender Service and co-counsel with Dow. "That is not happening in Texas right now."

Marcus and Dow were among lawyers who filed the civil rights lawsuit that alleged Martinez and two other death row inmates were not provided with competent counsel earlier in the state appeal process.

In an unusual twist last week, the victim's mother, Lana Norris, wrote the Texas Pardons and Paroles Board, asking that Martinez's death sentence be commuted to life.

"There is no doubt in my mind, that to execute Mr. Martinez would be a double crime against society," she wrote in the May 7 letter.

Her request was rejected Monday by the board in an unusually close 9-8 vote.

Norris said she had struggled emotionally with the loss of her only son and the fact that Martinez faced the death penalty. She had met earlier this month with Martinez at a state prison in an unusual mediation session allowed under Texas law.

Martinez was the 13th convicted killer executed this year in Texas and 10 more executions are currently scheduled this year. There have been 269 executions in Texas since the state restored the death penalty in 1982.

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