May 22, 2002
Convenience store killer executed today
Convicted killer Johnny Joe Martinez was executed this evening for
fatally stabbing a Corpus Christi convenience store clerk 9 years ago.
In a lengthy final statement, Martinez was apologetic and bitter, blaming his state appointed appeals lawyers for his death.
“I know I’m fixing to die, but not for my mistakes,” Martinez said. “My trial lawyers, they are the ones who are killing me.”
Martinez had insisted that his initial appeals lawyers were incompetent and inexperienced and failed to take the proper steps to get him off death row. Late appeals, including some to the Supreme Court this week, were rejected.
He apologized to the parents of his victim, Clay Peterson. Peterson’s
mother, Lana Norris, lobbied for his sentence to be reduced to a life term.
“I want to thank you,” he said, referring to Norris. “It meant a lot to me.”
His voice shaking, Martinez said he failed to call his own mother Wednesday. “Tell my mother I love her too. I didn’t call her because I just couldn’t,” Martinez said.
“I’m fine. I’m happy. I love you all. See you on the other side,” he said before taking a deep breath and slipping into unconsciousness. He was pronounced dead at 6:30 p.m., 12 minutes after the lethal dose began.
Martinez’s case gained notoriety when Norris joined the prisoner in asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to spare the 29-year-old Kingsville man by commuting his sentence to life in prison.
The board, in an unusually close 9-8 vote Monday, refused the clemency
Attempts in the courts earlier this week to stop the execution were
unsuccessful and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a pair of appeals about an hour before his scheduled lethal injection.
While not violent, prison officials described him as “passively resisting” as he was taken from the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, home of death row, for the 45-mile drive to the Huntsville Unit, where executions are carried out.
“I’m not going to walk,” Martinez told prison guards. “You’re going to have to carry me.”
They did, then repeated the procedure when he refused to walk himself into a cell just outside the death chamber.
Martinez, who worked as a medical care technician at a home for the mentally retarded, said he was drunk and had smoked marijuana at a party when he walked into the store where Peterson was working alone about 3 a.m. July 15, 1993.
The robbery of $25.65 from the cash register and the gruesome killing of the 20-year-old Peterson was caught on videotape by the store’s security camera.
“When you see that, you think: God, what a monster!” Martinez said recently from death row. “I couldn’t watch it. I couldn’t believe it was me…
“There’s not one day I don’t think about what I did. I wish I could bring him back. To this day, I still can’t believe I did something like that.”
As shown on the video, Martinez put a knife to Peterson’s throat, got money from the cash register, then attacked him.
“To this day, I can’t tell you how many times he was stabbed,” Martinez said.
“He plunges the knife into the guy’s neck 4 times,” Mark Skurka, the
Nueces County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Martinez, said,recalling the images from the tape. “It’s horrible. (Peterson) goes down face first. Johnny Joe Martinez tries to get around him and the guy tries to get back up. And he stabs him 4 more times in the back.”
The video then shows Martinez running out of the store and a companion in the parking lot driving off without him.
On the tape, the wounded Peterson climbs to the counter.
“You see a hand come up and grab the phone,” Skurka said. “He’s talking like he’s drowning. You see his bloody hand… You basically see the guy die on camera. He slips down… You see the blood spurting all over the place. Then it’s deadly quiet until the cops get there.
“It’s very moving, very riveting. It was very upsetting to the jury.”
When Martinez gave a confession to police, he said the stabbing came after Peterson struggled. The video disputed the claim.
“The kid never made a move to resist,” Skurka said. “Johnny Joe Martinez didn’t know there was a security video.”
In her letter to the parole board, Peterson’s mother urged Martinez, who she met earlier this month in prison, be saved so another mother could avoid losing a son to murder. The rejection left her sad, she said.
“We will be praying for Johnny and his family,” she said.
Skurka said it was important to note a jury decided Martinez’s fate.
“Not the mother, not me,” he said. “12 people apparently looked at the
video and decided this guy was a future danger.”
Martinez becomes the 13th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Texas and the 269th overall since the state resumed capital punishment on December 7, 1982.
Martinez becomes the 29th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 778th overall since America resumed executions on January 17, 1977.
May 22, 2002
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