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Texas executes man convicted in botched gang murders

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A man convicted for his role in the murder of four women near the Mexican border in a botched gang hit meant to kill another woman was executed by lethal injection in Texas on Thursday.

Robert Gene Garza, 30, was pronounced dead at 8:41 p.m. local time in Huntsville, Texas, said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Garza was the 12th inmate executed this year in Texas and the 25th in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Before he was executed, Garza thanked his friends and family for their support.

"It's not easy, this is a release. Y'all finally get to move on with your lives," Garza said, according to Clark.

The women, who all worked at a bar in the town of Donna in the Rio Grande Valley, were the victims of a case of mistaken identity during a hit carried out on the orders of an imprisoned gang leader, according to an account of the case released by the Texas attorney general's office.

It said Garza and three other men had been told to kill a woman who worked at a local bar because she had testified about a shooting that led to the gang leader's conviction.

The men followed six women from the bar in September 2002 as they drove to a home they shared. When they arrived, two men fired more than 60 bullets into the vehicle, killing four of the women.

Garza admitted to authorities his role in the killing of Dantizene Lizeth Vasquez Beltran, Celina Linares Sanchez, Lourdes Yesenia Araujo Torres and Maria De La Luz Bazaldua Cobbarubias in Donna, about 10 miles north of the border with Mexico.

The woman who was the intended target had stayed behind to close down the bar.

Garza told authorities he was in the car but had not pulled the trigger, and said the gang leader was angered by the botched hit. Garza also told authorities he had been involved in killing six people four months later in the nearby town of Edinburg, the attorney general's account said.

Garza was convicted of the Donna murders in 2003 and sentenced to death. The three other men authorities said were involved in the Donna killings are awaiting execution for the murders in Edinburg.

Garza filed two appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging his conviction and death sentence.

(Reporting by Karen Brooks and Edith Honan, Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)

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