Thursday, 29 March 2007

Second execution in 2 days set for Texas

March 29, 2007, 1:35AM

Second execution in 2 days set for Texas

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Convicted killer Roy Lee Pippin readily acknowledges smuggling illegal drugs and transporting and laundering millions of dollars in drug money through his Houston air conditioning business.

But the 51-year-old Pippin insists he wasn't responsible when two Florida men were shot and killed almost 13 years ago in a warehouse he rented after some $2 million in drug proceeds turned up missing.

"I was involved," Pippin said recently from death row. "I admitted to loading trucks with cocaine and moving money over the border.

"I didn't kill anybody."

Harris County jurors who heard his story didn't believe him, convicted him of killing the two men and decided he should die.

His execution was set for Thursday evening.

The lethal injection would be the 11th this year in Texas, the nation's busiest death penalty state, and the second in two nights.

On Wednesday, Vincent Gutierrez was executed for the shooting death of an Air Force captain, Jose Cobo, during a carjacking 10 years ago in San Antonio.

Gutierrez said he was sorry "about the situation that happened," and that "everybody is here because of what happened," but it was unclear in his brief final comments if he was apologizing for the slaying.

"Where's a stunt double when you need one?" Gutierrez asked, laughing just before the lethal drugs were administered.

Pippin, who wrote lengthy articles about his case for friends to post on the Internet, had refused legal help, criticizing his lawyers for failing to act timely on his behalf and legal groups opposed to the death penalty for giving up on him. Instead, he filed many of his own appeals, typing them in his cell and sending them to courts through the mail.

"The odds are astronomical," he acknowledged in a recent death row interview. "If I get action, it's going to make them look like idiots."

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late last week, however, denied his appeal challenging the Texas lethal injection method as unconstitutionally cruel and refused to stop the punishment.

"It will be murder," he said of his execution.

An attorney on Pippin's behalf filed a late appeal challenging the Texas sentencing law.

Pippin was convicted of the abduction and shooting deaths of Elmer Buitrago, 34, and his cousin, Fabio Buitrago, 55, both of Miami. Evidence showed the two were held captive at a Houston motel for about a week, then before dawn on May 4, 1994, were taken to a warehouse where each was shot four times.

Elmer Buitrago, however, didn't die immediately. He stumbled outside and began screaming and breaking windows at a nearby apartment complex. Residents called police. Buitrago told an officer Pippin was the gunman.

"A dying declaration," Julian Ramirez, a Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, said last week. "It doesn't get any better than that."

Pippin, who claimed to have moved as much as $600 million in drug proceeds, blamed the slayings on others in what he said was a Colombian drug operation.

"I was under duress," Pippin said. "They said they were going to kill my family."

"He's got critical words for everybody," Ramirez said.

Among witnesses who testified against him was a man who had been tortured at the warehouse and managed to flee. Authorities said another man believed held at the warehouse was found dead in nearby Fort Bend County. Pippin was not charged with that slaying.

"I'm not afraid of dying," Pippin said. "It'll be an escape."

He vowed to not go willingly to the death chamber.

"I'm going to fight, literally," he said.

Pippin went without food for about six weeks to protest the lethal injection method and conditions on death row. Despite promises he wouldn't eat again, he broke his hunger strike Monday with a piece of carrot cake and a sandwich a friend bought for him from a vending machine in the prison visiting area.

Three more convicted killers are to die in Texas in April, starting with James Clark, 38, who has an April 11 execution date for the 1993 robbery, rape and fatal shooting of Catherine Crews, a 17-year-old high school student from Denton.


On the Net:

Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule

Roy Lee Pippin

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