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'Texas 7' fugitive volunteering to die

Huntsville_Condemned prisoner Michael Rodriguez sees his execution as a chance to make amends for some very bad decisions.

His first bad decision led to the murder of his wife. The second made him a key partner in one of Texas' most notorious prison breaks and ultimately cost the life of a Dallas-area police officer gunned down by the gang of fugitives who became known as the "Texas 7."

"Sadly, a lot of people got hurt," Rodriguez, who for two years has been pushing for his own lethal injection that's set for today, told The Associated Press from outside death row. "I think it's a fair sentence. I need to pay back. I can't pay back monetarily. This is the way."

Rodriguez, 45, would be the first of the six surviving members of the infamous "Texas 7" - seven convicts who broke out of a South Texas prison in December 2000 - to be executed.

The gang was captured in Colorado after six weeks on the run. One of them, Larry Harper, killed himself rather than surrender to authorities, but not before they all were involved in the fatal shooting of Aubrey Hawkins, an Irving police officer, during a Christmas Eve robbery of a sporting goods store in the Dallas suburb.

"I'm glad we got caught so no one else would get hurt," Rodriguez said in an interview at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, home to death row.

His five remaining accomplices - George Rivas, Randy Halprin, Donald Newbury, Joseph Garcia and Patrick Murphy - also are there and awaiting the outcome of appeals. None of them has an execution date.

Rodriguez would be the eighth prisoner executed in the nation's most active capital punishment state this year and the second this week. On Tuesday, Leon Dorsey was put to death for a 1994 robbery at a Dallas video store where two employees were gunned down. Another execution is scheduled in Texas for next week.

Rodriguez's punishment was expected to draw dozens of police officers to Huntsville to stand vigil outside the prison while Hawkins' widow, Lori, was inside watching the convicted killer die.

"I'll be there," she said. "Absolutely. I wouldn't miss this."

Lori Hawkins credited Rodriguez with being "the first one to really admit his guilt" but said his words of apology were "a little too late."

"It didn't have to happen," she said of the fatal shooting of her husband of four years. "Aubrey didn't need to die."

At the time of the escape, Rodriguez was serving a life term for hiring a hit man to kill his wife, Theresa, 29, to collect her $250,000 life insurance. She was gunned down in 1992 getting out of her car outside their San Antonio home. The triggerman, Rolando Ruiz, also is on death row.

Rodriguez has been pushing for his own death for more than two years, starting in early 2006 with a hand-printed letter mailed to the federal courthouse in Dallas.

"I am a college graduate and have no delusions what will occur as an end result of these proceedings," Rodriguez wrote in the first of an almost monthly series of letters that wound up before a federal judge.

Michael Graczyk, AP Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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