By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas on Thursday executed by lethal injection a man who shot dead his wife on the day she tried to leave him, and killed a police officer who came to the home to check out a domestic disturbance call.
Texas officials said Frank Garcia, 39, gunned down Jessica Garcia in 2001 after she tried to leave her abusive husband. He killed police officer Hector Garza, 49, when he arrived at the home to check out a disturbance.
Garcia told police he aimed for Garza's head because he knew officers wear bullet-proof vests, detectives told reporters shortly after Garcia's arrest.
The Garcias' 5-year-old daughter witnessed both murders, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Frank Garcia shot Garza first, three times, and then shot his wife six times. He also shot and wounded his wife's uncle, according to the Department.
Shots he fired outside the house damaged a nearby elementary school, according to the Texas Attorney General's office. Garcia gave a formal statement in which he admitted intentionally killing his wife and Garza, the attorney general's office said.
Evidence presented in the trial showed that Jessica Garcia had once sought help from a battered women's shelter, according to the attorney general's office.
Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed, who prosecuted the case, attended the execution in Huntsville, Texas, according to a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Earlier in the week, she called the murders "a huge tragedy."
"If there was ever a poster child for the death penalty, this is the case," Reed told Reuters. "Hector Garza, a fine officer; Jessica Garcia, a woman who is trying to leave an abusive situation, and this huge tragedy happens to all of them."
Several dozen San Antonio police officers traveled to Huntsville and were present outside the prison unit during the execution, said Jason Clark, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.
The San Antonio Police Department said in a statement on behalf of Garza's family that the officer was a devoted husband and father committed to protecting his community.
"Though the execution does not bring complete closure to Hector's family, as we all miss him dearly, it comforts us to know that Frank Garcia will never destroy another family," the statement said.
Garcia prayed aloud at length in his final moments alive, Clark said.
"Thank you, Yahweh, thank you, Jesus Christ, hallelujah, amen, and thank you, warden," were his final words, Clark said.
Garcia's execution was the 12th this year in Texas, which has executed more than four times as many people as any other state since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
As of Wednesday there had been 38 executions this year in the United States, according to the Center.
Texas last month abolished the long-held tradition of allowing condemned inmates to order what they want for their last meal. Instead, they receive what other prisoners are served.
(Writing by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Jerry Norton)