HUNTSVILLE, Texas - A convicted sex offender was put to death 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.
Guadalupe Esparza, 46, asked for forgiveness before Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials administered lethal drugs into his arms.
"I hope you will find peace in your heart," he said to relatives of his victim, Alyssa Maria Vasquez, as they watched through a window a few feet from him. "My sympathy goes out to you. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me. I don't know why all of this happened."
Just minutes earlier, the child's mother, Diana Berlanga, had entered the death chamber, saw Esparza on the gurney with needles in his arms and said, "He's going to get what he deserves."
As the drugs took effect, Esparza appeared to go to sleep, taking several breaths before all movement stopped. He was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m. CST 11 minutes after the drugs were administered.
Appeals were exhausted and no late legal maneuvers were made to keep Esparza from becoming the 13th Texas inmate to be put to death by the state this year. A clemency petition was rejected Monday by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Alyssa's battered body was found in 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. Berlanga, the girl's mother, told authorities at the time that she met Esparza at a bar and he'd been calling her even though she'd given him the brushoff.
Police went to Esparza's apartment about two miles away and found some blood-spotted clothing of his in a trash bin. Semen on the slain girl's body was linked to him through DNA testing, and 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."
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 the child. 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.
"He had a very inflated opinion of his abilities to con people," McDonald said.
Esparza had been convicted in the past for assault, sexual assault and cocaine possession.
His execution is likely the last one this year in Texas, the nation's most active capital punishment state. The 13 executions this year are the lowest number the state has seen in 15 years.
But the state already has at least five prisoners scheduled for lethal injection early next year.