Pending Execution of Joseph Garcia

Last month, I wrote about Senate Bill 1437 and the long overdue and significant changes it made to the laws governing murder in California. You can find that post here. In short, the bill requires the government to prove that someone either directly committed a murder or aided and abetted the actual killer and shared the killer’s specific intent to kill.

Texas, otherwise often surprisingly a leader in criminal justice reform in other areas, does not yet employ such requirements. Under the controversial “law of parties,” Texas holds everyone involved in a crime responsible for its outcome, similar to California’s “natural and probable consequences” doctrine (which no longer applies to murders). If a defendant involved in a crime may have “anticipated” another felony could occur, he is liable for that crime as well, even if it is a murder and even if it is a murder that is eligible for the death penalty.

That is how Joseph Garcia now faces execution despite widespread agreement that he did not actually kill anyone (Garcia was previously convicted of murder, but faces the death penalty for a killing he did not commit, Garcia has maintained that the killing he previously committed was self-defense). In 2000, he and a group of inmates broke out of prison. They went on to commit several robberies. During one, a sporting goods store robbery gone wrong, his accomplices murdered a police officer. All but one, who committed suicide, were captured, convicted and given the death penalty.

Absent the courts or governor intervening, Mr. Garcia will be put to death despite the fact that the government never even proved he was outside of the store at the time his accomplices fired their weapons.

The Death Penalty Information Center identifies only ten people nationwide in which accomplices who did not actually carry out a killing have been executed. Five of these cases came from Texas.

Mr. Garcia should not be the next. Texas should halt his execution and follow California’s law to reform the law on homicide and ensure that the ultimate punishment is reserved for the worst of the worse.