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Texas man faces execution for 2001 strangulation of girl, 5, who was abducted from a store

Nov 15, 2023, 9:29 PM | Updated: Nov 16, 2023, 1:42 pm

This photo released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows death row inmate David Renteria. Renteria, a Texas inmate convicted of strangling a 5-year-old girl taken from an El Paso store and then burning her body nearly 22 years ago is facing execution. Renteria is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, evening at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas inmate convicted of strangling a 5-year-old girl taken from a Walmart store and then burning her body nearly 22 years ago is scheduled to be executed Thursday evening.

David Renteria, 53, was condemned for the November 2001 killing of Alexandra Flores. Prosecutors said the girl was Christmas shopping with her family at the El Paso store on Nov. 18, 2001, when she was abducted by Renteria. Her body was found the next day in an alley about 16 miles (25 kilometers) from the store.

Less than four hours before Renteria’ was set to receive a lethal injection at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stop the execution following late appeals by his attorneys.

Renteria’s lawyers still had another stay request pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, over claims that the execution drugs he would be injected with have degraded and contain contaminants that would cause him “pain and terror.” Recent similar claims made by other Texas inmates facing execution have been unsuccessful.

Renteria has long claimed that members of a gang called Barrio Azteca, including someone named “Flaco,” forced him to kidnap the girl by making threats to his family — and that it was the gang members who killed her.

Authorities said Renteria’s lawyers did not raise this defense at his trial and that evidence in the case shows he alone carried out the abduction and killing. Blood found in his van matched the slain girl’s DNA, according to prosecutors, and his palm print was found on a plastic bag placed over the girl’s head before her body was set on fire.

Prosecutors said Renteria was a convicted sex offender on probation at the time.

The lethal injection was one of two scheduled Thursday in the U.S. In Alabama, Casey McWhorter was set to be executed for his conviction in the fatal shooting of a man during a 1993 robbery.

Renteria’s lawyers had unsuccessfully argued that they have been denied access to the prosecution’s file on Renteria, which they argued violates his constitutional rights. His lawyers said the prosecution hindered their ability to investigate Renteria’s claims that gang members were responsible for the girl’s death. They had asked the Supreme Court to review a lower federal court’s decision not to assess a state court’s ruling denying access to the file. The Texas Attorney General’s Office called the appeal a delaying tactic, saying Renteria’s lawyers had years before Thursday’s scheduled execution to seek access to the file.

The claims by Renteria’s lawyers were based on witness statements released by El Paso police in 2018 and 2020 in which a woman told investigators that her ex-husband, a Barrio Azteca member, was involved in the death of a girl who had gone missing from a Walmart.

Renteria “will be executed despite recently uncovered evidence of actual innocence, evidence that he is innocent of the death penalty,” Tivon Schardl, one of the defense lawyers, said in court documents.

A federal judge in 2018 said that the woman’s statement was “fraught with inaccuracies” and was “insufficient to show Renteria’s innocence.”

In August, state District Judge Monique Reyes in El Paso granted a request to stay the execution and ordered prosecutors to turn over their files in the case.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned Reyes’ orders.

On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 against commuting Renteria’s death sentence to a lesser penalty. Members also rejected granting a six-month reprieve.

Renteria was accused of patrolling the store for about 40 minutes before zeroing in on the 5-year-old girl, the youngest of eight children in her family. The grainy surveillance video showed her following Renteria out of the store.

In 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out Renteria’s death sentence, saying prosecutors provided misleading evidence that gave jurors the impression Renteria was not remorseful. Renteria’s lawyers had argued that a statement he made to police after his arrest — in which he expressed sympathy for the girl’s family and that her death was “a tragedy that should never have happened” — was an expression of remorse. The appeals court said Renteria’s expression of remorse was “made in the context of minimizing his responsibility for the offense.”

During a new resentencing trial in 2008, Renteria was again sentenced to death.

Renteria would be the eighth inmate in Texas to be put to death this year. Prior to Thursday, there had been 21 executions in the U.S. this year.

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Texas man faces execution for 2001 strangulation of girl, 5, who was abducted from a store