Texas to execute man whose DNA tied him to cold case

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 26, 2012 10:48 AM

By Corrie MacLaggan

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A man who had been paroled for an assault in Michigan when his DNA linked him to a years-old murder in San Antonio is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Thursday.

Rodrigo Hernandez faces lethal injection for sexually assaulting and strangling Susan Verstegen, 38, before leaving her body in a San Antonio trash can. Verstegen, a Frito-Lay worker, was stocking snacks at a grocery store when she was attacked in 1994, according to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Hernandez's DNA wasn't matched to the crime until 2002, when Michigan officials took a sample from him as he was paroled and put it into a national database.

He was due to die by lethal injection at a prison in Huntsville some time after 6 p.m. local (7 p.m. EST).

If Hernandez's execution is carried out, he would be the second person executed in the United States this year following Gary Welch in Oklahoma in January, according to the National Death Penalty Information Center.

Hernandez would be the first person executed this year in Texas, which executed 13 people in 2011 and has put to death more than four times as many people as any other state since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the center.

Hernandez, 38, told the San Antonio Express-News in an interview published this month he didn't kill Verstegen and will "take that to the grave."

But Verstegen's mother, Anna Verstegen of San Antonio, said this week she hopes Hernandez will, before he dies, feel sorry for what he did to her daughter, who left behind a 15-year-old son.

"It's never too late," she told Reuters. "We're just praying for him. The kind of God I believe in can forgive."

In 2010, Michigan investigators said DNA evidence linked Hernandez to the 1991 murder of Muriel Stoepker, 77, of Grand Rapids, but that he would not be tried since he was on death row in Texas.

Nationwide, the number of executions fell for the second year in a row in 2011, with 43 inmates put to death compared with 46 in 2010 and 52 in 2009, Death Penalty Information Center figures show. In 1999, a record 98 prisoners were executed.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta)