HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ Career criminal Rudy Esquivel, convicted of killing a narcotics officer, went cheerfully to his death Monday as his friends read aloud from the Bible and he urged them to ''Be cool 3/8''

Esquivel, 50, nearly avoided execution for a fourth time when a federal judge granted him a stay Friday. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling after an appeal from state Attorney General Jim Mattox's office.

The Supreme Court on Sunday cleared the way for Esquivel's lethal injection, voting 7-2 to deny his request for a stay.

Esquivel, whose criminal record dates back to 1953 when he received a 99- year prison term for taking part in a gang rape, told four friends who witnessed the execution to ''Be cool 3/8''

''Give my love to everybody,'' he said. ''Thank you for being my friends.''

''We love you,'' said Ester Gonzales, one of the witnesses. Esquivel replied: ''I love you.''

Another witness, Barbara Longoria, read from the Book of Timothy. Afterward, she collapsed into the arms of her husband, Pilo, who told her, ''It's OK. He's with the Lord.''.

Esquivel took six deep breaths and appeared to be snoring. His eyes closed and there was no further movement. Death came at 12:21 a.m. CDT, prison officials said.

''I don't think I've ever seen an individual as calm and peaceful and cheerful when he was about to meet his maker,'' said Mattox, who also witnessed the execution.

Esquivel, who is Hispanic, was the first minority prisoner to be executed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Kentucky case in April that jurors could not be improperly excluded merely on the basis of race.

Esquivel's attorneys argued that minorities had been excluded improperly from his jury, but Mattox said there was no evidence to support the charge.

Authorities said Esquivel shot and killed Houston police officer Timothy Hearn, 28, on June 8, 1978, while on parole from the rape conviction. He also had been paroled from California after serving time for assaulting a police officer and forgery.

After a four-day trial, a jury took an hour to convict Esquivel.

Robert Hearn, the slain officer's father, said Esquivel's execution was ''fitting and proper.''

In an interview last week, Esquivel insisted he was framed by police for the shooting. He said Hearn and another officer were trying to plant heroin on him when the shootings occurred.

''I was set up and I have no remorse in me and I accept what is happening,'' Esquivel said. ''My great strength is that I know I was right.''

Monday's execution was the fourth in four months in Texas. Eight people have been put to death in the United States this year.

In Atlanta on Monday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Tuesday's scheduled execution of Georgia death row inmate Roger Collins, convicted of raping and murdering a teen-age girl. The court said it wanted to consider new arguments that his rights were violated before and during his trial.