By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas plans on Wednesday to execute a man convicted of strangling a female impersonator in Houston in 2001 and then stealing the victim's car.
Richard Masterson, 43, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6 p.m. at the state's death chamber in Huntsville. If the execution goes ahead, it will be the state's first this year and the 532nd in Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the most of any state.
There were 13 executions last year in Texas, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment in the United States.
Lawyers for Masterson have launched appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the execution, saying his due process rights were violated and that Texas presented false and misleading evidence regarding the death of Darin Honeycutt, 35, who went by the stage name of Brandi Houston.
Lawyers for Masterson said there was no struggle, no murder and no evidence indicating their client acted with violent intent. They also questioned the credibility of the medical examiner who called the death a homicide.
"The State's theory at the trial was that Petitioner strangled complainant during the course of a robbery. Petitioner has never denied that he restricted the complainant’s airflow, but only that it occurred during a consensual sexual encounter," lawyers for Masterson said in a court filing.
Texas prosecutors said that after Masterson killed Honeycutt, he left the state in the victim's car, which was found days later in Georgia being driven by a nephew of Masterson.
After fleeing to Florida, Masterson met a man in a bar frequented by gay men. The two went to the apartment of the Florida man and Masterson placed him a headlock, trying to strangle him, prosecutors said.
The man passed out and when he regained consciousness, he found that his car and wallet were gone, authorities said.
A Florida police officer ran across the stolen car at a mobile home park, which led to Masterson's arrest.
At his trial in 2002, Masterson, who has a long criminal record, did not admit to the murder.
He took the stand and said he was a danger to society, daring jurors to sentence him to death, which they did.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)