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GARZA executed at federal prison; apologizes for `pain and grief that I caused'

Updated:

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) _ With an apology for ``the pain and grief that I have caused,'' murderer and drug kingpin Juan Raul Garza was executed Tuesday, eight days after Timothy McVeigh became the first federal inmate put to death since 1963.

Garza died at 7:09 a.m. by chemical injection, strapped to the same gurney where McVeigh was put to death last week.

He went to his death calmly and, unlike McVeigh, with remorse. ``I just want to say that I'm sorry, and I apologize for all the pain and grief that I have caused,'' he said. ``I ask your forgiveness and God bless.''

As Garza was being executed, about 50 anti-death penalty activists sang ``We Shall Overcome'' and other protest songs.

However, the scene at the prison was in stark contrast to the buzz of media activity that met McVeigh's final days. Dan Dunne, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokesman, said only about 75 reporters had registered for credentials to cover Garza's death. More than 1,000 reporters had credentials for the McVeigh execution.

Garza was the first person to be executed under the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which imposes a death sentence for murders stemming from a drug enterprise.

Despite lingering questions about the racial and geographic equality of the federal death penalty, President Bush and the U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to delay Garza's execution.

The court rejected claims that the jury should have been told that the alternative to a death sentence was life in prison with no possibility of release, and that Garza's death sentence would violate two international treaties.

Following the two Supreme Court rulings, Bush turned down a clemency request by Garza, who was convicted in Bush's home state of Texas in 1993.

Garza attorney Audrey Anderson said she was ``outraged'' by the governments refusal to delay the execution.

``There are significant questions as to whether Mr. Garza was chosen for federal capital punishment on the basis of his ethnicity,'' Anderson said. ``Questions that the government thinks should be investigated further, but doesn't think are important enough to stop this execution.''

Garza, 44, was convicted of murdering a man by shooting him five times in the head and neck and ordering the deaths of two other men. It was all part of Garza's marijuana smuggling operation, which federal prosecutors say he ran ruthlessly.

Death penalty opponents and some former Justice Department officials wondered whether Garza, a Mexican-American born in the United States, would have been sentenced to death if he were white or had committed his crimes elsewhere.

Six of the 19 men now on federal death row were sentenced in Texas. All are minorities.

``There is a question of whether the way the system is set up produces arbitrary and discriminatory results,'' said Robert Litt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department.

A Justice Department study released last year found wide racial and geographical disparities in the use of the federal death penalty. Because of that study, then-President Clinton delayed Garza's December execution date, saying, ``In this area, there is no room for error.''

A Justice Department review released earlier this month found no evidence of bias in federal death penalty sentences. Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered further study but said Monday there was no evidence of racial bias in Garza's death sentence and no reason to delay his execution any further.

The original Justice Department study showed that 80 percent of federal defendants charged with capital offenses over a five-year period were minorities. The study also found that just nine of the 94 U.S. attorney districts accounted for about 43 percent of all cases in which prosecutors sought the death penalty.

Garza's attorneys cited 26 cases involving crimes similar to Garza's where prosecutors did not seek the federal death penalty.

Garza spent Monday resting, reading, watching television and visiting with his attorneys, said Jim Cross, executive assistant at the prison. Garza also met with the warden, who explained what the inmate could expect in the coming hours.

His final requested meal consisted of steak, french fries, onion rings, diet cola and three slices of bread.

Early Tuesday, death penalty opponents arrived together on a bus with a police escort. Some carried signs, some began praying. One man sat by himself in a field about 600 yards from the prison and lit a candle.

Dwight Conquergood of Chicago said, ``It's a personal outrage. I'm appalled and aghast. Judicial killing is theater. It's planned, it's staged and it's deliberate.''


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