Convicted carjacker executed for 1990 slaying
HUNTSVILLE � Convicted killer Lionell Rodriguez was executed this evening for the fatal shooting almost 17 years ago of a Houston woman during a carjacking just three weeks after he had been paroled from prison.
The execution of Rodriguez, 36, would be the 16th this year and the first of two on consecutive evenings in the nation's most active death penalty state.
The U.S. Supreme Court two months ago refused to review Rodriguez's case, and his lawyers said there were no legal avenues left to try to spare him.
A parolee sentenced to die for killing a Houston woman so he could steal her car because his vehicle was low on fuel has won a new trial under a ruling from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
The reversal of Lionell Gonzales Rodriguez's conviction on a technicality drew criticism from friends and family of Tracy Gee, who was shot to death on Sept. 5, 1990.
"He admitted he killed her. Why should some legal
technicality matter? He killed her in cold blood," said Brian Barcak, who worked with Gee at a Houston fitness club.
"I don't think the justice system works very well," Barcak said.
The court voted 5-4 to send Rodriguez's case back for another trial, saying the trial judge erred when he allowed the names of potential jurors to be randomly shuffled twice.
The appeals court said the law allows for only one shuffle, which affects the order in which potential jurors are interviewed and selected for the panel.
The request for the second shuffle was made by the
prosecution and was objected to by the defense. The objection was overruled by state District Judge Carl Walker Jr
AUSTIN -- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused Wednesday to reconsider its controversial reversal of a death sentence for the man who killed Houstonian Tracy Gee, with one judge denying suggestions that he played both sides of the case.
Denying prosecutors' motion for a rehearing, the court let stand a June 23 order for a new trial for Lionell Gonzales Rodriguez, who had been convicted of capital murder in the Sept. 5,
1990, death of Gee.
The decision sparked a furor in Houston, and state Republican leaders, contending the court was ""out of touch'' with law-abiding citizens, promised to make an issue of the case in upcoming Court
of Criminal Appeals races.
Judge Chuck Miller, then a Democrat, dissented in the Rodriguez decision and a few months later switched parties. He is up for re-election next year.
After Miller and Republican officials announced the judge's new political affiliation, the Texas Lawyer newspaper reported in September that Miller had actually written the unsigned, reversal
opinion from which he dissented.
Miller said Wednesday in an unusual opinion that he wanted to "clear up some confusion about the authorship of the original opinion."
He said the court had routinely assigned him the Rodriguez case under the rotation system used in deliberating death penalty
cases. He said the majority opinion issued by his office was based on a legal precedent established by the court in a previous case, to which he also had dissented.
"It is regrettable if my actions in fulfillment of my ethical duty to the court has led to any confusion. My position on the issue of a second jury shuffle has never wavered," Miller
[This message was edited by JB on 06-20-07 at .]
There was no divine intervention for Lionell Rodriguez on Tuesday, despite his claims that he is a changed man since finding God while on death row for the murder of a young woman at a Meyerland-area traffic light.
The seven-man, five-woman jury that found him guilty last week of capital murder for the Sept. 5, 1990, slaying of Tracy Gee, 22, voted unanimously to return him to death row, where he had been
During the punishment phase of the trial, testimony by Rodriguez's mother, sister and father detailed physical and substance abuse endured by Rodriguez during his youth.
Janie Warstler, Rodriguez's mother, tearfully testified that her children were regularly exposed to violence at the hands of their father, whom she later divorced. She said he once tried to
run her down with his car and frequently manhandled Lionell.
The father often shared marijuana with Rodriguez, who also had been given beer since he was about 6, fueling addictions that plagued him until Gee's murder, Warstler said.
Rodriguez's father confirmed for jurors the accounts given by
his family, adding that he did not love his son because he loved
alcohol and drugs more.
Prosecutor Chuck Rosenthal [now the elected DA in Harris County] said Rodriguez should be considered dangerous. He reminded jurors of several episodes of Rodriguez's violent acts, including harassing a young woman and trying to break into her house.
Rosenthal also challenged the testimony about abuse, describing it as fiction because it was not brought up in Rodriguez's first trial.
As for his religious conversion, Rosenthal said, ""I hope he found God; it will make it a lot easier when he meets him. He needs
to meet him. '' Jurors returned a verdict in a little more than 2 1/2 hours.
[This message was edited by JB on 06-20-07 at .]
The Rodriguez case was very symbolic of what was wrong with the Court of Criminal Appeals in the early 1990's. The result was a complete change in the makeup of the CCA and the resurrection of procedural default and harmless error as legitimate parts of the appellate review process.
Here is a typical editorial:
AUSTIN -- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has put itself back on the map.
Normally little noticed except by prosecutors, defense attorneys and convicts, the panel every now and then issues a ruling that outrages most law-abiding folks, as did last week's
decision in the Tracy Gee murder case.
Except for a few legal scholars and defense lawyers, the entire city of Houston seemed up in arms over the court's reversal
of the capital murder conviction of the man who admitted shooting Gee in the head so he could steal her car when his was low on fuel.
The appellate court ruled, 5-4, that the trial judge erred when he allowed prosecutors, over the defendant's objection, to
have the names of potential jurors shuffled a second time. The court held that state law allowed only one shuffle and ordered a
new trial without even considering whether the defendant's right to a fair trial had been harmed in any way.
The court's critics complained that justice had once again been derailed by a technicality, and they probably were right. Even if the defendant, Lionell Gonzales Rodriguez, is convicted and
again sentenced to death in a retrial, the taxpayers will foot the bill and, worse, Gee's family will be subjected to more suffering.
Their scars were reopened last week.
Although this doesn't have anything to do with the case being debated now and is offered only for perspective, the Court of Criminal Appeals upholds the vast majority of criminal convictions
sent its way.
Its reversal rate is higher among published opinions, but those involve the most controversial cases, those in which there are strong opposing arguments on legal points or in which lower
courts have offered conflicting opinions on similar issues.
And what may be a ""technicality'' to prosecutors in some cases is a constitutional or statutory right -- even a matter of life or death -- to an individual who may have been wrongly
Former death row inmates Clarence Brandley and Randall Dale Adams -- each convicted of a murder he apparently didn't commit -- wouldn't have lived long enough to gain their freedom had it not
been for the appellate process, of which the Court of Criminal Appeals -- Texas' highest criminal court -- is an integral part.
Had the prosecution in the Rodriguez trial attempted to shuffle the list of jury panel members several times until it succeeded in getting the name of a specific person to the top of the list, that would have raised legitimate cause for concern that prosecutors were trying to unfairly weight the jury in their favor.
In that case, it would have been difficult to criticize the
appellate court for reversing the conviction. To think, however, that a second shuffle warrants another trial seems unreasonable.
If there is any confusion in the law -- and apparently there is, since the court was divided -- the Legislature should clarify
the statute the next time it meets.
Meanwhile, the Harris County district attorney's office will ask the court to reconsider the case, hoping it can convince one judge to change his mind.
There also is the voting booth for those people who are unhappy with the court's decision in this case or any other case (it has reversed several capital murder convictions over the past
Three of the court's nine members are up for election every two years. But only one of the three judges scheduled to be on the
1994 ballot -- Democrat Charles Campbell -- sided with the court majority in reversing Rodriguez's conviction. The other two, presiding Judge Michael McCormick and Judge Chuck Miller, both Democrats, dissented.
State Republican Chairman Fred Meyer, noting that the only Republican on the court also dissented, said the GOP will attempt to use the controversial decision to unseat Democratic judges
during the next several election cycles.
And Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, a former prosecutor, also has declared war on the court. Three years ago, Hardin formed a
group to raise funds to try to unseat Democratic Judge Sam Houston
Clinton, one of the court's more liberal members, but failed.
Clinton, who voted to reverse the Rodriguez conviction, won't be on the ballot again until 1996, if he chooses to seek re-election.
The Gee family certainly won't forget what happened last week, but most people's memories will soon begin to fade.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys pay attention to who runs for the Court of Criminal Appeals and the records they compile if they get elected. But the average voter doesn't recognize the names
of the judges -- and may even have trouble finding them on a long
A few more decisions like last week's, though, could begin to change that.
[Cases like this one inspired me to run for the CCA in 1994. Didn't make it, but did get to meet a bunch of people who felt the same way, making for a completely new CCA after a couple of election cycles.]
Of course, this entire process also brought a little-known lawyer onto the CCA. That lawyer replaced Judge Charles Campbell, who voted for the reversal of Rodriguez' case. What was his name?
Hmm. And I seem to remember you once said my posts were too long.
You've got a long memory.
Was it Mansfield ? -- somebody I thought was a pretty good judge.
I'd join Martin in preferring shorter clips with a link and some value added comments. I absolutely never read those extremely long cut and pastes of articles.
Mansfield it was. Follow up question on the pop quiz: what crime did he commit while serving as a judge on the CCA?
It's a little hard to find a link to something written 15 years ago. Had to pull it off Nexis. That was before the internet, wasn't it?
I believe it was the municipal offense of leaving dogs (tiny tiny wee people doggies) unattended in his Ford Fiesta whilst he worked at the CCA.
What's my prize?
Close. He did have problems with keeping his pet dog in his car in the parking garage. But the conviction, which led to a reprimand, was for something different. Clue: Go Horns.
I think it was for scalping college tickets outside the UT stadium.
What's the prize?
Selling tickets (which he got for free) at an enhanced price. He also had child support difficulties as I recall.
Mansfield's dog (which may have been something like a pekingese or papillon) was a monster compared to this dog: Teeny Tiny
Judge Mansfield's crime was criminal trespass.
"One judge in Texas got in trouble several years ago for his handling of complimentary UT tickets. Steve Mansfield, then a member of the state Court of Criminal Appeals, was arrested by campus police in 1998 for trying to scalp his tickets. He pleaded no contest to trespassing and was reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Conduct."
Former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Stephen Mansfield "may now be the most overqualified security guard in Houston history," reports Tim Fleck of the Houston Press. Although Fleck could not reach Mansfield directly, Houston Republicans told him Mansfield is complaining he's having to make ends meet as a uniformed security guard at the Texas Medical Center...
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