The groundbreaking for a new Amway manufacturing plant is …
The groundbreaking for a new Amway manufacturing plant is …
All you need to know if you are traveling this holiday weekend …
A 39-year-old woman from Grand Rapids was injured after her …
The Friday before the Memorial Day weekend is known as Don't …
Michigan State Police graduated new recovery divers this week …
Updated: Friday, 27 Jan 2012, 6:10 PM EST
Published : Thursday, 26 Jan 2012, 11:36 AM EST
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Convicted killer Rodrigo Hernandez has been executed in Texas for the abduction, rape and strangulation of a 38-year-old woman in San Antonio 18 years ago.
Hernandez, 38, was executed by lethal injection for the slaying of Susan Verstegen, an employee of snack maker Frito-Lay. She was attacked at a storage area behind a supermarket and her body was found dumped in a garbage barrel behind a San Antonio church.
According to the Statesman out of Austin, Tex., Hernandez told a chaplain as witnesses filed in, "I'm ready. They better hurry up."
Hernandez's final statement was: "I want to tell everybody, I love everybody. Keep your heads up. We are all family, people of God almighty. We're all good. I'm ready."
The February 1994 slaying went unsolved for eight years until Hernandez, as a requirement for parole from a Michigan prison, had to submit a DNA sample that went into a national database. The DNA linked him to her death.
Advances in DNA technology more recently also tied Hernandez to the 1991 slaying of a 77-year-old homeless woman in Michigan.
Hernandez was headed to the Texas death chamber while the U.S . Supreme Court considered whether to block his execution.
Hernandez insisted he was innocent of both slayings, telling The San Antonio Express-News in a recent interview that his grandmother who raised him taught him to respect women.
"I'll take that to the grave," he said.
However, he told a San Antonio police detective, George Saidler, who questioned him after the DNA match was discovered in 2002 that he was high on marijuana and alcohol and that he grabbed Verstegen, wrapped his hands around her neck when she struggled, drove off in her car and threw her body in the trash can when he realized she was not breathing.
"I never meant to kill her," Hernandez said, according to Saidler, who obtained the confession.
"He was trying to convince me he was sorry for what he had done," Saidler, now an investigator for the Bexar County district attorney, said.
In his Supreme Court appeal, Hernandez's lawyers argued he had deficient attorneys early in his appeals who failed to address claims he had equally ineffective legal help at his trial when claims Hernandez was mentally impaired weren't pursued. The high court has ruled mentally impaired people aren't eligible for the death penalty. The arguments cited an Arizona case the high court now is reviewing where a condemned prisoner contends shoddy legal help in his initial appeals is a constitutional violation.
State attorneys told the justices the legal help early in Hernandez's appeals was not deficient because mental impairment issues were addressed with testimony from a mitigation specialist and a mental health expert at Hernandez's capital murder trial.
Hernandez had a long criminal record. The DNA sample that linked him to Verstegen's slaying was submitted as he served a sentence in Michigan for using a bottle to severely beat a man. Two years ago, DNA evidence linked him to the 1991 murder of Muriel Stoepker in Grand Rapids, Mich. He was not tried for her death.
When Michigan authorities went to Texas death row to question him about her slaying and showed him a letter indicating he would not be prosecuted, he refused to discuss the killing, Saidler said.
However, Texas Rangers said that just minutes before he was put to death, Hernandez confessed to the Muriel Stoepker killing.
He paid her for a sex act, he said, and the gun he was holding accidentally went off, the Rangers said.
In a 2010 interview with a psychologist arranged by his appeals lawyers, Hernandez said he moved from South Texas to Grand Rapids around age 12. At 17, he said he was shot in the head and in the back while he was drunk. Also at 17, he was arrested for breaking and entering, returned to Texas as part of a deferred adjudication and then bounced in and out of jail back in Grand Rapids for parole violations.
He said he met Verstegen while working at a San Antonio supermarket in 1993 and 1994 and that they had a consensual sexual relationship. Saidler said there was no evidence of such a friendship.
Chuck Monney, who was 15 when his mother was killed, planned to attend the execution.
"As far as getting everything finished -- court issues, phone calls, letters -- I look forward to that," he said this week. "It's really the only thing I look forward to.
"It would be nice to have maybe some kind of statement of remorse, but that doesn't change anything."
The execution would be the first this year in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state. At least five other Texas inmates have execution dates scheduled in the coming weeks.
In March 2010, Hernandez was arrested for the slaying of Muriel Stoepker in a parking structure stairwell at GRCC on Sept. 8, 1991. The 77-year-old woman was affectionately known throughout the downtown area as "the bag lady."
The Kent Metro Cold Case Team reopened the case, using
DNA found at the scene. Advances in technology allowed the Michigan State Police crime lab to develop a DNA profile, which matched that of Hernandez.
State Police Sgt. Sally Wolter, head of the cold case team, said the suspect sexually assaulted Stoepker. A trace amount of semen found at the scene initially wasn't enough to test for DNA.
Hernandez was arrested for a 1998 assault in Grand Rapids. When he was let out of prison in the early 2000s, the Department of Corrections took his DNA sample. That sample matched evidence in the Texas murder of Verstegen, which put Hernandez on death row.
Hernandez abducted a 30-year-old woman from a grocery store parking lot in Feb. 1994, restrained her by placing his hands around her neck and then sexually assaulted her, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Web site. When Hernandez realized the victim was not breathing, the site says, he took her body to a park and left her in a garbage can.
That same DNA sample has now allegedly tied Hernandez to Stoepker's death.