Pursuant to an order of the 148th Judicial District Court of Nueces County, Texas, Richard Vasquez is scheduled for execution after 6:00 p.m. on April 23, 2015.
In June 1999, a Nueces County jury found Vasquez guilty of capital murder for the March 5, 1998, killing of Miranda Lopez, a child under the age of six.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas described the murder of Miranda Lopez as follows:
During the guilt/innocence stage, the evidence showed that at the time of the offense, Vasquez, who was eighteen years old, was living with his parents; his girlfriend, Brenda Lopez; their four-month-old child, Meagan; and Brenda’s four-year-old child, Miranda. Vasquez had a serious addiction to heroin and cocaine which had begun when he was thirteen. Although his parents made numerous efforts to help him with his drug problem, Vasquez remained clean only for a short period of time and invariably reverted to his drug use.
By March 1998, Vasquez and Brenda had become so addicted to drugs that, according to Vasquez, they stopped caring about themselves, the children, or anything else except drugs. They would leave the children anywhere so that they could go out and steal things to sell in order to buy more drugs. Vasquez would become infuriated when the drugs ran out and he did not have any more money to feed his habit.
According to Vasquez, he and Brenda argued throughout the night of March 4th, during which time he injected himself with heroin and cocaine before falling asleep in the early morning hours of March 5th. Vasquez injected himself with heroin again at 10:30 a.m. before taking Brenda to work between 11 a.m. and noon. Vasquez drove Brenda to work while the children sat in the back seat of the car. On the way, Vasquez got angry with Brenda because he had to watch the children and would not be able to go steal more things to sell for drugs.
After Vasquez and the children returned home, sometime during the late morning, Vasquez’s neighbor saw a child Miranda’s age playing in the backyard. After about 10–15 minutes, she heard a loud, angry voice coming from Vasquez’s door. She saw Vasquez standing there and heard him say to the girl in Spanish, “You’re going to get it, stupid.” Vasquez denied that this incident ever occurred.
According to Vasquez’s testimony at trial, after he dropped Brenda off, he and the children returned home and Vasquez needed a fix. He called Brenda to ask her where the heroin was and Brenda would not tell him. This angered Vasquez and although Vasquez acknowledged that Miranda was not doing anything wrong, he struck her in the head. He could not say how many times he hit her. He then called Brenda again who told him where the drugs were and he injected another round of heroin. He told Miranda to go get a stool from his parents’ room and brush her teeth. When Miranda came back with the stool, Vasquez claimed that Miranda fell down. He put toothpaste on her toothbrush and left the room. When he came back, Miranda was face down in the sink. He repeatedly tried to make her stand, but she kept falling down. He then put her on his parents’ bed and called “911” around 1:30 p.m., telling the dispatcher that Miranda was choking.
When the deputy constable and the emergency medical technicians arrived at the house, Vasquez said that Miranda had fallen off a wooden stool and hit her head. No wooden stool was in the area, although one was later found next to the bed where Vasquez placed Miranda. Miranda had blood on her nose and mouth which Vasquez claimed was a result of Miranda biting him when he put his fingers in her mouth to prevent her from swallowing her tongue. The paramedics also noted that Miranda had a bump on the back of her head, noticeable bruises of various stages on her back, and bruising around her eyes which indicated a possible head injury. Miranda was taken to the hospital. In the meantime, Vasquez called Brenda and told her that Miranda had fallen off a stool and hit her head. He picked up Brenda at work and they headed to the hospital – both injecting heroin on the way.
It was determined by Dr. Michael Burke, a pediatric neurosurgeon who performed brain surgery on Miranda, that Miranda suffered from trauma to the head. He testified that her brain injuries were equivalent to those she would have sustained had she been ejected from a car traveling 65 m.p.h. Burke’s final diagnosis was that Miranda suffered severe brain injury from child abuse. Leann Box, a sexual assault nurse, examined Miranda at 7 p.m. and noted that she had extensive bruising on her head, face, chest, hips, pelvic region, genitalia area, ankle, thigh, shoulder, back, and arms. Some of these bruises were formed from injuries made within the previous twelve to twenty-four hours. The bruising on Miranda’s hips were consistent with injuries that could be caused from being held from behind while being sexually assaulted.
Box also performed a detailed genital exam. Miranda had multiple abrasions and tears in her genital-anal region. Many of the tears were the result of injuries that had occurred no more than twelve hours earlier. Miranda had a two-centimeter tear […] that was approximately one-half-centimeter deep (just short of muscle tissue). In over 200 sexual assault examinations, Box had never seen a tear this thick. This type of tear would be caused from a great deal of force and would have likely bled a great deal. Box testified that the tear was not bloody when she examined Miranda which led her to believe that it had been cleaned. Although extremely painful, rubbing alcohol and pressure could have stopped the bleeding.
Vasquez was arrested and crime scene technicians photographed him, noting the bruising on his hand, fresh cuts to his thumb and finger, and needle marks on his arms. At Vasquez’s home officers and the crime scene technicians found blood on the wall and shower curtain in the bathroom where Miranda allegedly fell. There was a bottle of rubbing alcohol on a night stand and the bed next to it was damp. A child’s blood stained t-shirt and coveralls were found in a clothes hamper, which Vasquez’s father said he put there after finding them in the house. After searching the garage, the crime scene personnel found two syringes, the cap to a tube of toothpaste, a hair brush, a long black hair, toilet paper with blood on it, and tissue paper that appeared to be saturated with rubbing alcohol inside of a garbage can in a plastic bag. Vasquez’s father testified that he had taken the trash out of the bathroom and put it in the garbage can.
A pediatrician who helped establish a clinic for examining sexual assault victims testified as an expert witness. He summarized his findings by stating in his twenty years of practice, “This is really one of the most severe sexual assaults I have seen in my career.” Additionally, the Nueces County Medical Examiner testified that an analysis of Miranda’s blood indicated a potentially lethal amount of cocaine in her system. It was double the lethal amount for an adult. The doctor could not determine how the cocaine got into Miranda’s body.
Vasquez could not explain the bruising, genital-anal injuries, or the cocaine. He denied sexually assaulting Miranda or giving her drugs. But Vasquez did admit that he was the only adult in the house that morning and that he had struck Miranda in the head.
PRIOR CRIMINAL HISTORY
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented with information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial – which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.
The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas described the punishment evidence as follows:
[D]uring the punishment phase, the State put on evidence that Vasquez had been verbally abusive and a discipline problem in school. Although the principal spoke with Vasquez’s parents, the situation did not change. In another incident, Vasquez set a fire in an area of the school that had only one entrance and no windows. Additionally, Vasquez had been convicted of theft and burglary of a motor vehicle and had two theft cases pending at the time of trial. Vasquez’s former probation officer testified that Vasquez failed to report, failed to comply with other conditions of his probation, and generally had a very poor attitude concerning his probation. Vasquez also consistently denied that he had a drug problem.
Rita Hunter, Miranda’s pre-school teacher, also testified at punishment that one time when Vasquez came early to pick up Miranda, he closed the classroom door and prevented Miranda from exiting. When Hunter managed to open the door, Vasquez put his hand on her shoulder and began rubbing it down her back. When Hunter told Vasquez to get away, Vasquez began following Hunter around the room in front of her young students, laughing and putting his hands all over her body, including on her chest and between her legs. Eventually he pushed Hunter to the ground and straddled her. Only when a janitor happened to walk by did Vasquez get off of Hunter and leave with Miranda.
On March 26, 1998, Vasquez was indicted in Nueces County, Texas for the capital murder of Miranda Lopez. Vasquez was found guilty of capital murder on June 18, 1999, by a Nueces County jury and, after a separate punishment hearing, Vasquez was sentenced to death on June 22, 1999.
On Oct. 3, 2001, Vasquez’s capital murder conviction was affirmed by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas on direct appeal.
Vasquez filed his first state habeas application on June 27, 2001, which the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas denied on Jan. 26, 2005.
Vasquez filed his second state habeas application on March 27, 2003, which the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas dismissed as a subsequent application on Jan. 26, 2005.
On Jan. 26, 2006, Vasquez filed a federal habeas petition in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Corpus Christi Division. Relief was denied on March 28, 2008.
On Aug. 11, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of federal habeas relief.
On May 16, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States denied Vasquez’s petition for writ of certiorari from the Fifth Circuit’s decision.
On Aug. 28, 2014, the 148th Judicial District Court of Nueces County, Texas, set Vasquez’s execution for Jan. 15, 2015.
On Dec. 30, 2014, the 148th Judicial District Court of Nueces County, Texas, re-set Vasquez’s execution for April 23, 2015.
For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.