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Texas Set for Double Execution

August 9, 2000

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ The nation’s busiest death chamber was set for a double execution Wednesday night, including an inmate opponents say is retarded and should not be put to death.

Oliver David Cruz, 33, was condemned for the 1988 abduction, rape and fatal stabbing of a 24-year-old woman stationed at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. His IQ has tested as low as 63.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 on Wednesday morning to deny his emergency application for a reprieve. The court also rejected a separate appeal for Cruz.

Shortly afterward, the high court voted 7-2 to refuse to block the execution of the second inmate, Brian Keith Roberson, 36. He was condemned for the 1986 stabbing deaths of an elderly couple who lived across the street from him in Dallas.

The back-to-back lethal injections _ Roberson first, then Cruz about an hour later _ would be the first multiple executions in Texas since June 1997 and would be only the third time since capital punishment resumed in the state in 1982 that more than one inmate was executed in one day.

``The execution dates are set by district judges at the local level,″ said Heather Browne, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s office. ``The fact that two executions are set on the same date is just coincidence.″

The double execution is a far cry from Feb. 8, 1924, when Texas prison officials, taking over execution duties from the counties for the first time, inaugurated the electric chair in Huntsville by putting five inmates to death.

The attention paid to the two inmates have paled in comparison to the hoopla that drew the hundreds of protesters and media to Huntsville in June for the lethal injection of Gary Graham.

Graham’s claims of innocence and an unfair trial spotlighted Texas as the nation’s execution capital and support of the death penalty by Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, in twin 18-0 votes earlier this week, refused to recommend to Bush that he halt Wednesday’s executions, the 27th and 28th in Texas this year. They were the first of six scheduled this month.

``I’m not ready to die,″ Cruz said in an interview last week. ``That’s what scares me the most.″

A senior airman who worked as a linguist at Kelly Air Base, Kelly Donovan, 24, was taking a walk the night of Aug. 7, 1988, when she was abducted by Cruz and Jerry Kemplin, who were driving home after a drinking party. She was raped by Cruz, who then stabbed her to death.

``I made a mistake. I don’t blame nobody. I take full responsibility,″ Cruz said. ``There’s nothing I could do or say to bring the person back. There’s nothing I could do or say to her family about how sorry I am.″

Cruz blamed the attack on drug use that began for him at age 13. He said he and Kemplin, who testified against him in exchange for a 65-year prison term, had taken LSD and drank ``a couple of bottles of liquor.″

``She was just someone,″ he said of Donovan. ``I don’t expect nobody to have pity on me.″

Cruz’s attorney, Jeff Pokorak, argued that a jury was not given enough information about his client’s lifelong mental impairment. An IQ under 70 is considered at least mildly retarded, but prosecutors noted that Cruz had scored above 70 before.

Among the 25 states that allow the execution of retarded killers, some are considering laws prohibiting the practice. The Texas Legislature, which killed a bill last session outlawing the execution of someone whose IQ is below 65, will revisit the issue in 2001.

In the Dallas case, Roberson fatally stabbed James Boots, 79, and Boots’ wife, Lillian, 75, during a home robbery.

``I wasn’t in a solid frame of mind,″ he said, blaming the attack on his use of PCP and liquor. ``I was just juiced up.″

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