Hit man in 1992 Texas murder-for-hire slaying scheduled for execution

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- The U.S. Supreme Court was considering appeals from attorneys trying to keep a paid hit man from his scheduled execution Tuesday evening in Texas for gunning down a San Antonio woman in a life insurance scheme nearly a quarter-century ago.

Rolando Ruiz was convicted of accepting $2,000 to fatally shoot Theresa Rodriguez, 29, outside her home in 1992 as she was getting out of a car with her husband and brother-in-law, who both orchestrated her murder.

Ruiz’s lethal injection would be the third this year in Texas and the fifth nationally.

“It’s not going to bring her back, so it really doesn’t mean very much,” Susie Sanchez, whose daughter was killed in the contract murder, said Monday. She and her husband had no plans to witness the execution, but some of her other children planned to attend the 44-year-old Ruiz’s punishment, she said.

Ruiz’s lawyers argued to the Supreme Court that lower courts improperly rejected an earlier appeal. They also contended Ruiz’s execution would be unconstitutionally cruel because he’s been on death row since 1995, had multiple execution dates and two reprieves. Attorney Lee Kovarsky blamed the long time between a San Antonio jury’s verdict and the punishment on the state’s failure to provide Ruiz with competent lawyers earlier in his appeals.

Assistant Texas Attorney General Edward Marshall disputed the claims, telling the high court arguments about earlier deficient legal help “have been inspected, scrutinized, studied, probed, analyzed, reviewed and evaluated” at all levels of the federal courts. While some individual Supreme Court justices have raised questions about long death row confinement, the courts consistently have ruled it was not unconstitutionally cruel.

Ruiz approached a car pulling up to Rodriguez’s home the night of July 14, 1992, under the guise of seeking directions. Her husband of nearly seven years, Michael, was in the car along with Michael’s brother, Mark. Ruiz, who already had pocketed $1,000 and had failed in two earlier killing attempts, asked Mark Rodriguez if he wanted him to “do it,” and Rodriguez gave him the go-ahead. As Theresa Rodriguez was getting out of the car, Ruiz put a .357 Magnum revolver to her head and fired. Three days later, Ruiz collected another $1,000 for the completed job.

Evidence showed Michael Rodriguez stood to collect at least a quarter-million dollars in insurance benefits from his wife’s death and that he’d recently applied for another $150,000 in life insurance for her.

Ruiz had met Mark Rodriguez at the home of a mutual friend, was arrested nine days after the shooting and implicated the brothers. The police investigation was aided by a telephone tip after Theresa Rodriguez’s employer, the San Antonio-based financial services giant USAA, offered a $50,000 reward for information about her slaying.

The Rodriguez brothers eventually accepted life prison terms in plea deals. Mark Rodriguez was paroled in 2011.

Michael Rodriguez later joined Ruiz on death row as one of the notorious Texas 7, a group of seven inmates who escaped from a South Texas prison in 2000 and killed a Dallas-area police officer. He was executed in 2008. He blamed his infatuation with a younger woman for the contract murder plot.

Joe Ramon, who accompanied Ruiz the night of the shooting, and Robert Silva, identified as the intermediary who put the Rodriguez brothers in touch with Ruiz, also received life prison sentences.

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