Killer of 7-year-old San Antonio girl set to die
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — A convicted sex offender was set to die Wednesday evening for slipping into a San Antonio apartment in the middle of the night, snatching a 7-year-old girl and raping and strangling her.
Appeals were exhausted and no late legal maneuvers were made to keep Guadalupe Esparza, 46, of San Antonio, from becoming the 13th Texas inmate to receive lethal injection this year. A clemency petition was rejected Monday by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The battered body of Alyssa Maria Vasquez was found in some weeds behind a convenience store near her home hours after she was reported missing in June 1999. A baby sitter who discovered her gone identified Esparza as having visited the residence earlier that night. The child’s mother, Diana Berlanga, told authorities she met Esparza at a bar and he’d been calling her even though she’d given him the brushoff.
Police went to his apartment about two miles away and found some blood-spotted clothing belonging to him in a trash bin. When semen found on the slain girl’s body was linked to him through DNA testing, Esparza was charged with capital murder.
“He tried to blame it on somebody else,” Terry McDonald, one of his trial lawyers, said. “He was not a very repentant individual … just a constant denial that it wasn’t him, the facts to the contrary.”
From death row, Esparza continued to insist he was innocent.
“I’m not capable of doing anything like this,” he recently told the San Antonio Express-News.
A judge who authorized a review of DNA in the case was told last week the findings were consistent with the evidence during Esparza’s 2001 trial, where his attorneys had challenged the validity of the results.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review claims he was mentally impaired and ineligible for execution. Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected an attempt to renew that claim and others questioning whether he had effective legal help at his trial.
Investigators determined that blood on Esparza’s clothing retrieved from the trash was his and not the slain girl’s. But a Bexar County Jail inmate testified Esparza told him he got rid of the clothing because he didn’t want detectives to think the blood came from her. The Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 2003 ruling upholding his conviction and death sentence, said the discarded clothing provided some evidence of his awareness of guilt and the timing of his action showed knowledge of the crime.
Esparza, against the advice of his lawyers, twice took the stand at his five-day murder trial, defiantly responding to prosecutors’ questions and accusing them of coaching witnesses.
“I ain’t a child molester,” he insisted during testimony. “The only thing that would look like that I’m guilty of is messing around behind my girlfriend’s back, if you want to call it messing around.”
McDonald said he didn’t want Esparza to testify “but he wasn’t the easiest client to deal with.”
“He had a very inflated opinion of his abilities to con people,” the lawyer said.
The defense tried to spare Esparza’s life by presenting mitigating evidence but “there wasn’t a whole lot of that,” McDonald recalled.
Court records showed Esparza was beaten by his stepfather, spent time at an orphanage and lived with a grandmother. His mother was treated once or twice a year for mental illness.
Esparza received probation for attempted arson as a teenager, was arrested for pulling a knife on a child to steal a bicycle and had school suspensions on his record, according to testimony.
A woman testified that he tried to rape and strangle her when she was 13.
He was convicted of assault in 1984 for beating a man with a metal pipe and baseball bat. Then in 1985, he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and received 12 years in prison.
He was paroled in 1990 and locked up again in 1993 with an eight-year sentence for cocaine possession. He was released on mandatory supervision three years later.
In May 1999, just weeks before the Vasquez girl was killed and shortly after Esparza completed a mandatory sex offender treatment program, he arrived at the San Antonio home of a friend. He was looking for a place to spend the night because his girlfriend had kicked him out, according to testimony.
He was put out of the friend’s home that night when a 7-year-old girl there told her father Esparza tried to have sex with her. The girl testified she woke up when Esparza put his hand under her shirt, then offered her a dollar to go into the bathroom with him.
Authorities said Esparza was in constant trouble while in prison, refusing work details and attacking other inmates. They said he became an active member of the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang.
Esparza’s execution is likely the last in 2011 in the nation’s most active capital punishment state. This year’s Texas total is the lowest in 15 years, although at least five prisoners already are scheduled for lethal injection in the early months of 2012.