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URGENT Inmate Who Insisted On Being His Own Lawyer Executed

January 30, 1987

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A man convicted of murdering a sleeping service station attendant was executed early Friday after he refused legal help in his last-minute appeals, fearing he would lose the right to be his own lawyer.

Ramon Hernandez, 44, of El Paso was sentenced to die for the 1980 shooting death of a mechanic during a burglary at a closed service station. Hernandez was pronounced dead at 1:13 a.m., said Attorney General Jim Mattox.

He was the first inmate executed in the United States this year.

After the needle was inserted, Hernandez turned to his common-law wife and told her that he loved her and his four children, who were not present.

″I’ll always love you. You know that. That’s it,″ Hernandez said. He closed his eyes, sighed and died.

His execution was delayed by more than an hour after last-minute appeals, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court, were rejected.

Hernandez had declined legal help Thursday, saying he was afraid he would lose the right to be his own attorney.

But lawyers ignored Hernandez’s wishes and filed appeals before U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans late Thursday, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hernandez had told State District Judge Peter Peca in a telephone conversation Thursday that he did not want legal help.

″The court asked if he wanted a stay and asked what he wanted and he apparently refused to do anything,″ said Assistant Attorney General Bill Zapalac. ″The trial court recommended that relief be denied.″

Anyone can file on behalf of an inmate, ″but if the inmate refuses to have it considered, the court doesn’t have to consider it,″ said Zapalac. He said the state would oppose any effort to halt the execution if Hernandez did not authorize the attempts at a stay.

Richard Lovelace, who defended Hernandez at trial, filed the request before Peca, but Zapalac said Hernandez would not accept Lovelace as his attorney.

Lovelace then said he would make a last-minute appeal to Bunton.

After speaking with Peca, Hernandez was moved from his death row cell to a holding cell next to the death chamber, where he was to be killed by injection. He was to be the 21st Texas inmate put to death since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1982.

Earlier, he visited with his mother and son and watched television. For his final meal, he selected beef tacos, enchiladas, jalapeno peppers, salad, onion rings, chopped onions, hot sauce, shredded cheese and coffee. He named his common-law wife, Velma, his son, Jimmy Hernandez, and a friend, Pedro Velardez, as his witnesses.

″Nobody wants to die,″ Hernandez said in an interview this week. ″But sometimes people have to make a stand. I have a paramount right to represent myself.

″If I get a stay, I won’t be making a stand. Seeing that I’m a human being, it’s very important for me not to die. But at the same time, it’s important for me to make a stand.″

Lawyer Will Gray, who has represented other inmates on death row, had said he was trying to intervene for Hernandez, but he filed no motions with Peca’s court.

″The guy has a whole misconception of the law,″ Gray said. ″He doesn’t really want to die. But his point ain’t going to help him. He can take his point to heaven with him.″

Hernandez was convicted of killing Oscar Frayre during a 3 a.m. burglary at an El Paso service station June 20, 1980.

Frayre was asleep when he was shot. Hernandez was arrested about 13 hours later at a motel and denied any knowledge of the slaying.

Houston appeals attorney Carolyn Garcia said Hernandez’s family could have intervened, but only if the inmate’s refusal to seek legal help stemmed from mental incompetency.

″I’m rational, I’m intelligent,″ Hernandez said. Asked about possible efforts by his family, he replied, ″They don’t know anything about this.″

Hernandez, a former welder and community college student, blames drug use for repeated brushes with the law starting at age 13. He served a three-year term in Texas prisons in the mid-1960s for drug possession and has federal convictions for illegally transporting aliens.

″My record is very bad,″ he said.