Death Penalty for 3rd Escapee

By Mike Lee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Texas)
May 10, 2002

MOUNT VERNON - Michael Anthony Rodriguez was sentenced to death Thursday for his role in the slaying of Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins.

"Sunday, offender Rodriguez, is Mother's Day, and I will go to the cemetery and plant flowers in my son's garden," Jayne Haw-kins, the officer's mother, said during victim-impact statements at the sentencing. "Most people will be there to mourn the death of their mothers. I will be there to mourn the death of my son."

Rodriguez is the third Texas prison escapee to receive the death penalty for Hawkins' slaying. The other two escapees convicted of killing Hawkins during a robbery in Irving are George Rivas and Donald Keith Newbury. Trials are pending for the other three surviving escapees.

It was Rodriguez's second capital murder conviction - he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for hiring a man to kill his wife, Theresa Sanchez, in 1992.

Rodriguez had served about five years of that sentence when he and six other inmates broke out of the Connally Unit in South Texas.

"You got away from the death sentence seven years ago, but you didn't get away from it now," said Eddie Sanchez, Theresa Sanchez's father.

Rodriguez smiled faintly but showed no other emotion as the verdict was read and during the impact statements. One juror wept, and others dabbed at their eyes. The jury deliberated for an hour and 23 minutes. Defense attorney Gary Taylor immediately handed the judge a notice of appeal.

Hawkins was having dinner with his family on Christmas Eve 2000 when he was summoned to investigate a report of suspicious people at Oshman's SuperSports USA.

The inmates were loading stolen guns and cash into their getaway vehicle when Hawkins pulled up, according to testimony. He was shot 11 times and run over with the getaway vehicle.

In a written confession, Rodriguez denied intending to kill Hawkins, but he told his brother in a letter that he had fired one shot and pulled the dead officer's body from the squad car.

Defense attorneys tried to prove that Rodriguez had an affair with a priest while attending a Catholic high school and was confused because his family did not tolerate homosexuality. The priest was called to the stand but he declined to testify.

Michael Charlton and Taylor said after the verdict that the priest's refusal to testify, and the judge's refusal to force him to testify, would be grounds for appeal.

"It would have shown a pattern of abuse," Taylor said.

Charlton and Taylor subpoenaed the former Marianist brother. The retired teacher, Eugene Fitzsimmons, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a hearing without the jury present. The Rev. Timothy Dwyer, provincial superior of the Society of Mary's St. Louis Province, which includes Texas, said Rodriguez's attorneys contacted him about Fitzsimmons several months ago and subpoenaed the province's records for the years he had taught at Central Catholic High School.

Dwyer told the San Antonio Express-News that Rodriguez never made any allegations against Fitzsimmons.

Charlton said the Catholic Church has a history of hiding abuse by priests.

Rodriguez's attorneys also said the fact that the Mount Vernon Optic-Herald printed the names of the jurors would be further grounds for appeal.

Prosecutor Tom D'Amore asked the jury during closing arguments to remember Hawkins' son, who was 9 when his father was killed.

"When he grows up, he'll probably ask a lot of questions: 'What happened to my father?' The 12 of you will answer that question for him," he said.

Taylor responded: "I have a son. He called me the other night, and you know what he said: 'Daddy, did they give him the death penalty?' How do you explain killing someone, because, son, killing is wrong."

Prosecutor Toby Shook said Rodriguez played an essential role in the prison break and the robberies that led to Hawkins' death. Rodriguez's father was indicted in connection with providing the getaway vehicle, which was left near the prison outside of Kenedy, and Rodriguez helped scout Oshman's the day before the robbery. Rodriguez had tried to escape once before, in 1995, but was caught in a crawl space above the prison chapel.

"We tried a life sentence with Michael Rodriguez," Shook said. "His mind is dangerous, folks, and it will remain dangerous until he's executed."

The next escapee trial in Hawkins' murder will be that of Joseph Garcia of San Antonio.


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