HUNSTVILLE, Texas (AP) — An ex-convict who confessed to killing five people at a Dallas-area car wash a week after he was fired from his job there 12 years ago was executed Thursday evening.
Robert Wayne Harris, 40, received lethal injection less than two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court refused appeals to halt his punishment.
Harris expressed love to his brother and three friends who were watching through a window.
“I’m going home. I’m going home,” Harris said. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be alright. God bless, and the Texas Rangers, Texas Rangers.”
He snored briefly as the lethal dose of pentobarbital began, then all breathing stopped. He was pronounced dead at 6:43 p.m., making him the eighth Texas inmate executed in the nation’s most active capital punishment state. Another execution is set for next week.
Harris was convicted of two of the five slayings in March 2000 at the Mi-T-Fine Car Wash in Irving. He also was charged with abducting and killing a woman months before the killing spree and led police to her remains.
Harris didn’t deny the slayings, but his lawyer unsuccessfully contended in appeals he was mentally impaired and should be spared because of a Supreme Court ban on execution of mentally impaired people. Attorney Lydia Brandt also argued prosecutors improperly removed black prospective jurors from serving on his trial jury. Harris is black.
Harris died “without ever having had a fair trial” on the issues, Brandt said.
Harris’ brother asked to leave the death chamber before the procedure was complete. A half-dozen friends and relatives of the victims also were present, watching in another room. Harris never looked at them. Two of them hugged after it was apparent Harris was dead. They declined to speak with reporters afterward.
State attorneys opposed Harris’ appeals, saying IQ tests disputed the mental impairment claims and that no racial component was involved in jury selection.
Harris had served an eight-year sentence for burglary and other offenses and had been working at the car wash for about 10 months when he was fired and arrested after exposing himself to a female customer. The following Monday, he showed up before the business opened, demanded the safe be opened and then shot the manager, the assistant who had fired Harris and a cashier.
Three more employees reporting to work also were shot, two of them fatally. Harris was arrested the next day.
“I remember just the vicious nature of the offense and the fact it was very well thought-out and conceived by Robert Harris,” Greg Davis, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who was the lead trial prosecutor, said this week. “Guilt is just crystal clear.”
Brad Lollar, one of Harris’ trial lawyers, acknowledged that, and said: “Our whole aim was to get him a life sentence.”
Prosecutors tried Harris specifically for two of the slayings: Agustin Villasenor, 36, of Arlington, the assistant manager whose throat also was slit, and cashier Rhoda Wheeler, 46, of Irving.
Harris was charged but not tried for killing Villasenor’s brother, Benjamin, 32, a seven-year employee; car wash manager Dennis Lee, 48, of Irving; and Roberto Jimenez Jr., 15, an employee from Mexico.
The day after Harris confessed to the car wash bloodbath, he led police to the remains of an Irving woman, Sandra Scott, 37, who had been missing for four months. He was charged but never tried for capital murder in her death.
Court records showed Harris was 18 when he went to prison for burglary and other charges and after violating probation. He spent most of it in administrative segregation, a confinement level for troublesome inmates. Testimony at his trial showed he set fire to his cell, assaulted and threatened to kill prison staff and inmates, dealt drugs and engaged in sexual misconduct.
Harris’ mention of the baseball team in his last words isn’t the first time a sports team has been referred to from the death chamber gurney. Several have thanked the Dallas Cowboys football team for providing them enjoyment.
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