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Texas carries out nation's first execution in 2017

Christopher Wilkins was executed on January 11, 2017.

KEYE

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Texas has executed death row inmate Christopher Wilkins, who was convicted of killing two men after one of them mocked him for falling for a phony drug deal.

The lethal injection of the 48-year-old Wilkins Wednesday is the nation’s first execution this year. Twenty were carried out in the U.S. last year, the lowest number since the 1980s.

Wilkins was declared dead at 6:29 p.m. local time.  

Wilkins explained to jurors at his capital murder trial in 2008 how and why he killed his friends in Fort Worth three years earlier, saying he didn’t care if they sentenced him to death.   

The Supreme Court declined to block Wilkins’ execution about three hours before the scheduled lethal injection. Wilkins’ attorneys had argued to the Supreme Court that he had poor legal help at his trial and during earlier appeals and that the courts improperly refused to authorize money for a more thorough investigation of those claims to support other appeals and a clemency petition. 

In their unsuccessful appeal to the high court, Wilkins’ attorneys contended he had poor legal help at trial and during earlier appeals and that the courts improperly refused to authorize money for a more thorough investigation of his claims.

State attorneys said courts have rejected similar appeals and that defense lawyers are simply employing delaying tactics.

Wilkins was released from prison in 2005 after serving time for a federal gun possession conviction. He drove a stolen truck to Fort Worth, where he befriended Willie Freeman, 40, and Mike Silva, 33.

Court records show Freeman and his drug supplier, who wasn’t identified, duped Wilkins into paying $20 for a piece of gravel that he thought was a rock of crack cocaine. Wilkins said he shot Freeman on Oct. 28, 2005, after Freeman laughed about the scam, then he shot Silva because he was there. Wilkins’ fingerprints were found in Silva’s wrecked SUV and a pentagram matching one of Wilkins’ numerous tattoos had been carved into the hood.

Wilkins also testified that the day before the shootings, he shot and killed another man, Gilbert Vallejo, 47, outside a Fort Worth bar in a dispute over a pay phone, and about a week later used a stolen car to try to run down two people because he believed one of them had taken his sunglasses.

“I know they are bad decisions,” Wilkins told jurors of his actions. “I make them anyway.”

Wes Ball, one of Wilkins’ trial lawyers, described him as “candid to a degree you don’t see,” and had hoped his appearance on the witness stand would have made jurors like him.

“It didn’t work,” Ball said.

While awaiting trial, authorities discovered he had swallowed a handcuff key and fashioned a knife to be used in an escape attempt.

“This guy is the classic outlaw in the model of Billy the Kid, an Old West-style outlaw,” said Kevin Rousseau, the Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wilkins.

Twenty convicted killers were executed in the U.S. last year, the lowest number since the early 1980s. That tally includes seven executions in Texas - the fewest in the state since 1996. Wilkins is among nine Texas inmates already scheduled to die in the early months of 2017.