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‘Whoa,’ Said Prieto, The First Texas Prisoner Executed In 2015, As He Smelled The Injection

HUNTSVILLE — A 41-year-old Texas prisoner was put to death Wednesday evening for the slayings of three people during a robbery at their San Antonio home more than 21 years ago.

Arnold Prieto, who spurned a plea deal for a sentence of less than life in prison, became the first inmate to receive a lethal injection this year in Texas, which carried out 10 executions in 2014. He was pronounced dead at 6:31 p.m. CST, 20 minutes after a lethal dose of pentobarbital began flowing into his veins.

Asked by the warden if he had a final statement, Prieto replied: “There are no endings, only beginnings. Love y’all. See you soon.”

As the injection began, he said he could smell it, then uttered, “Whoa.” He immediately began snoring, each snore a bit more quiet. After about five snores, he stopped moving.

Prieto was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die for his role in the September 1993 fatal stabbings of Rodolfo Rodriguez, 72, his wife, Virginia, 62, and Paula Moran, their 90-year-old former nanny who lived with them. Each victim was stabbed or cut multiple times with an icepick, screwdriver or knife.

The attackers took jewelry and about $300.

Prieto’s sister was among witnesses watching through a window. Four sons and a daughter-in-law of the slain couple watched through a window in an adjacent room. They declined to speak with reporters afterward.

Prieto smiled and nodded to the people he selected to watch him die as they walked into a witness room. He made no eye contact with relatives of the victims in the other room.

Two decades ago, Prieto turned down the plea deal, refusing to testify against one of other men with him during the robbery. “There was a way out,” one of Prieto's trial lawyers, Michael Bernard, recalled last week. “We just couldn't get there.”

No late appeals were filed in the courts Wednesday to try to halt his punishment.

Prieto and two brothers related to the Rodriguezes were arrested in Carrollton, a north Dallas suburb, seven months after the killings. The case went unsolved until an informant's tip led police to Carrollton, where a grandnephew of the slain couple implicated himself, his brother and Prieto.

Prieto was the only one of three to get the death penalty.

Authorities said Prieto told them he and brothers Jesse and Guadalupe Hernandez believed the Rodriguezes had about $10,000 cash used for a checking-cashing business they operated out of their home.

Prieto told police the three had been using cocaine and continued to do so during their 300-mile drive from Carrollton to San Antonio. Virginia Rodriguez fed them breakfast after they arrived. Then she, her husband and Moran were attacked.

Prieto was previously jailed for more than a year and received probation for vehicle burglaries. He also was indicted in January 1994 on federal charges of engaging in organized criminal activity for the theft of 163 laptops worth $676,000 from a Dallas warehouse where he’d worked.

Jesse Hernandez, now 38, is serving a life sentence for the slayings. He was the fiancé of Prieto’s sister and the father of her child. The killings occurred a day before his 17th birthday, making him too young for the death penalty. Charges against his brother, Guadalupe, were dropped because of insufficient evidence. (AP)