Pursuant to a court order by the 175th District Court of Bexar County, Arnold Prieto is scheduled for execution after 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2015.
In 1995, a Bexar County jury found Prieto guilty of murdering Rodolfo Rodriguez, Virginia Rodriguez, and Paula Moran in the same criminal transaction. Below is a summary of the evidence presented at trial.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals summarized the evidence of guilt in its opinion on direct appeal:
The Hernandez brothers, Lupe and Jesse, were friends of [Prieto]’s who supplied [him] with free cocaine. The Hernandez brothers, particularly Lupe, would often mention a rich uncle in San Antonio, Rodolfo Rodriguez, who was married to the brothers’ aunt, Virginia Rodriguez. They told [Prieto] their uncle was a loan shark who kept a closet full of money.
[Prieto] and Lupe began taking cocaine early on the day of the offense which occurred in September 1993. Lupe repeatedly asserted that he wanted to go to San Antonio to get his uncle’s money. [Prieto]’s confession claimed Lupe “pressured” [him] into going to San Antonio to get his uncle’s money. The Hernandez brothers and [Prieto] set off from Carrollton in [Prieto]’s car for the victims’ home in San Antonio. They took cocaine throughout the trip.
[Prieto]’s confession related that [he] was too scared and preoccupied with trying to think of a way to get back to Carrollton to remember the details of what was discussed on the road to San Antonio. [Prieto] did remember Lupe telling him and Jesse to take off their socks and put them on their hands when they kill[ed] the victims so as not to leave any fingerprints. [Prieto] further remembered Jesse testing this theory against the car windows. [Prieto]’s confession claimed the planned crime was not his idea.
The three men arrived at the victims’ home at a very dark hour early in the morning. [Prieto] claimed in his confession that he thought of staying in the car, but Lupe told him to “get the […] out of the car!” Lupe knocked on the door of the house, and Virginia came to the door asking who it was. Lupe answered, “Soy yo tia.”
Virginia opened the door and let the three men in. She was, as [Prieto] recalls, “very nice.” She prepared breakfast for them. She poured orange juice for [Prieto], and he ate the breakfast she had prepared. [Prieto] claimed in his confession that he thought nothing was going to happen. He put his dirty dishes in the sink. Then, Jesse called [Prieto] into a bedroom adjoining the kitchen. Rodolfo was sitting on the bed. [Prieto] sat next to him.
Suddenly, Virginia screamed from the kitchen. [Prieto] looked toward the kitchen and saw Lupe stabbing his aunt with what looked like a long screwdriver. Rodolfo attempted to help her, but [Prieto] pushed him back down on the bed and held him down as Jesse handed [Prieto] a screwdriver. [Prieto] grabbed the screwdriver and stabbed Rodolfo “a lot of times.” He remembered stabbing Rodolfo once through the back of the head.
[Prieto] claimed in his confession that he was frozen with shock at what he had done but was roused by Lupe yelling at him to “move.” [Prieto] claimed in his confession that he felt faint when he saw Virginia’s body on the kitchen floor, and then he heard a loud pop in the living room. Then he saw Paula Moran, aged ninety-two, on the living room floor, her head “sort of propped up” against the wall.
[Prieto] stood in the doorway while Jesse pried open a closet door. He watched while Jesse ransacked the contents of the closet and emptied several large envelopes. [Prieto] yelled “let’s go” and ran past Paula Moran. He noticed she was moving. Jesse stopped over Paula and stabbed her repeatedly. Lupe took a purse from the bedroom where [Prieto] had stabbed Rodolfo.
Lupe then drove [Prieto]’s car. [Prieto] sat in the passenger seat and claimed he began to throw up and shake. He resumed his ingestion of cocaine which continued throughout their return trip to Carrollton.
Back at [Prieto]’s apartment in Carrollton, Lupe and Jesse split up the stolen goods and gave [Prieto] “a man’s gold nugget ring with a coin mounted on top.” According to [Prieto], “[w]e split some cash Lupe had found in the purse. We each got about one hundred dollars. I also picked out a gold chain, small like for a child with a crucifix pendant .... A couple of days after ... I asked [sic] Lupe that I needed some money .... He gave me a couple of earrings and a couple of necklaces which I pawned at “U.S.A. Pawn” .... I got one-hundred-forty dollars for all the jewelry.”
[Prieto] later told his wife, “I killed somebody so did Lupe and Jesse.”
On Jan. 26, 1995, a Bexar County grand jury indicted Prieto for murdering Rodolfo Rodriguez, Virginia Rodriguez, and Paula Moran in the same criminal transaction, or for murdering Rodolfo Rodriguez while in the course of committing the felony offense of robbery.
On March 27, 1995, a Bexar County jury convicted Prieto of capital murder. After a separate punishment proceeding, the same jury sentenced Prieto to death on March 30, 1995.
On Dec. 16, 1998, Prieto’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on direct appeal. Prieto did not appeal the state court’s decision to the United States Supreme Court.
On Oct. 8, 1999, Prieto filed an application for state habeas corpus relief, which was denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals on Nov. 28, 2001.
On Aug. 2, 2002, Prieto filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. The federal court denied Prieto’s petition as time-barred on July 7, 2005.
On Dec. 5, 2005, Prieto appealed the district court’s decision to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and also requested a certificate of appealability (COA) for permission to appeal on other grounds.
On July 14, 2006, the Fifth Circuit denied Prieto’s request for additional COA in an unpublished opinion. However, on July 18, 2006, the Court reversed the district court’s decision to dismiss Prieto’s federal habeas petition as untimely, and also reversed the district court’s decision to sua sponte dismiss a jury-misconduct allegation as procedurally barred. The Court remanded to the district court with instructions to address the procedural bar issue after giving both parties the opportunity to argue their respective positions.
On Dec. 18, 2006, after receiving briefing from both parties, the district court issued a supplemental opinion again finding that Prieto procedurally defaulted on his jury-misconduct claim, and alternatively finding that the claim does not warrant federal habeas relief on the merits.
On Sept. 15, 2008, the Fifth Circuit rejected Prieto’s appeal and affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas corpus relief.
Prieto filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on Jan. 21, 2009. The high court denied review on April 27, 2009.
On May 7, 2014, the 175th state district court issued an order setting Prieto’s execution date for Jan. 21, 2015.
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 penalty phase of Prieto’s trial, jurors learned that Prieto was federally indicted in January 1994 for engaging in organized criminal activity and stealing 163 laptop computers – worth approximately $676,000 – from his Dallas-area employer. Prieto was associated with an organized-crime ring involved in the theft and resale of various products: tires, chemicals, furniture, and computers. The jury also heard evidence that, while incarcerated awaiting trial, Prieto was disciplined for multiple instances of disobeying orders, violating security rules, possession of contraband, yelling, and changing television channels without permission. Finally, jurors learned that Prieto was arrested and confessed to the 1990 burglaries of a Lincoln, two trucks, and two vans.
For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.