Pursuant to an order by the 144th District Court of Bexar County, Texas, Manuel Vasquez is scheduled for execution after 6 p.m. on Wed., March 11, 2015.
On Nov. 5, 1999, a Bexar County jury convicted Vasquez for the capital murder of Juanita Ybarra. Following separate punishment phase proceedings, the convicting court sentenced Vasquez to death.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit provided the following summary of the underlying facts:
[O]n the morning of March 19, 1998, Vasquez, a member of [organized crime gang], together with Johnny Joe Cruz and Oligario Lujan, forcefully entered the motel room of Juanita Ybarra. Ybarra was present, as was Moses Bazan. Vasquez, Cruz, and Lujan proceeded to attack Bazan and Ybarra. Bazan was assaulted until he lost consciousness. Ybarra was strangled to death, after which her motel room was searched for valuables. The robbery and murder were motivated by Ybarra’s failure to pay the [organized crime gang]’s […] tax, consisting of 10 percent of the proceeds of Ybarra’s sale of illegal drugs.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial – which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.
During the punishment phase, the State presented evidence regarding Vasquez’s violent criminal history, including (1) Vasquez’s receiving a 10-year sentence for aggravated assault for his role in the Aug. 31, 1986, death of Robert Alva during which Vasquez (along with his younger brother and others) choked Alva with a belt, beat him with a crowbar, kicked him, and set him on fire after dousing him with gasoline; (2) Vasquez’s commission of robbery by threats on Aug. 31, 1986, for which he received one year probation; (3) Vasquez’s March 5, 1992, execution style murder of drug dealer Richard Pacheco in retaliation for Pacheco’s failure to pay the [organized crime gang]’s “tax” on proceeds from the sale of illegal drugs; (4) Vasquez’s nearly fatal stabbing of Hector Zacharias on May 31, 1992, and resultant conviction and 8-year sentence for attempted murder; and (5) Vasquez’s participation with several other individuals in a series of burglaries and a pair of unsolved robberies committed in September – October 1996.
The State also presented evidence regarding Vasquez’s potential for future dangerousness. A Bexar County Sheriff’s Department officer testified that Vasquez was “a disruptive, violent, aggressive and dangerousness inmate” who was kept in segregation or isolation for the entire period in jail as a result of his assaultive behavior towards staff and inmates. Vasquez continued to associate with an organized criminal organization while he was awaiting trial for capital murder and was found in possession of a letter from a general of the criminal organization and a pair of treaties executed by the criminal organization with other prison gangs. Finally, while Vasquez was incarcerated at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, he obtained disciplinary actions for possessing a weapon, inciting a riot, and engaging in a fight.
On June 10, 1998, a Bexar County grand jury indicted Vasquez for the March 19, 1998, capital murder of Juanita Ybarra, charging that Vasquez intentionally killed Ybarra by strangling her with a ligature while in the course of committing and attempting to commit the offense of robbery.
On Nov. 5, 1999, Vasquez was convicted of capital murder. After several days of punishment phase proceedings, Vasquez’s jury deliberated for slightly more than two hours before returning its verdict to the special issues. In accordance with the jury’s answers, on Nov. 10, 1999, the trial judge sentenced Vasquez to death by lethal injection.
On Feb. 6, 2002, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Vasquez’s conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Vasquez did not seek certiorari review from the U.S. Supreme Court.
While his direct appeal was pending, Vasquez filed a state habeas corpus application on Dec. 13, 2001, asserting seven grounds for relief. In August and September of 2005, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Vasquez’s claims, and on Aug. 7, 2009, issued findings of fact and conclusions of law recommending his application be denied. On Nov. 18, 2009, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an order denying habeas corpus relief.
On Nov. 12, 2010, Vasquez petitioned for federal habeas relief, asserting seven grounds for relief. On July 19, 2012, a federal district court issued a 123-page Memorandum Opinion and Order that rejected Vasquez’s claims on procedural and merits-based grounds, and denied Vasquez a certificate of appealability (COA). The district court issued final judgment the same day.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, holding “that reasonable jurists would not debate the district court’s well-reasoned and thorough decision,” denied Vasquez a COA.
On Oct. 7, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Vasquez’s petition for certiorari review.
On Sept. 18, 2014, the 144th District Court of Bexar County, Texas, set Vasquez’s execution for Wed., March 11, 2015.
On Jan. 20, 2015, Vasquez petitioned for clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
For additional information and statistics, please access the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, www.tdcj.state.tx.us.