HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Guadalupe Esparza already was a convicted sex offender when he was charged with snatching 7-year-old Alyssa Maria Vasquez from her San Antonio apartment, then raping, sodomizing and strangling her before dumping her body in some weeds behind a convenience store near her home.
Esparza was scheduled to be executed Wednesday, five days short of his 47th birthday, for the child s slaying more than a decade ago.
The brutality of the killing was bad enough, Terry McDonald, one of Esparza s trial attorneys, recalled this week. When you have a young child, juries don t have much sympathy. And they probably shouldn t.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a federal appeals court decision rejecting claims that the former bricklayer and cook was mentally impaired and ineligible for execution. Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected an attempt to renew that claim and others questioning whether he had effective legal help at his trial. Last week, a San Antonio judge who allowed a review of DNA evidence in the case was told the results were 100 percent consistent with evidence as presented at Esparza s trial. No late appeals were in the courts Tuesday, said Enrico Valdez, chief of the appellate division of the Bexar County district attorney s office.
Esparza s execution would be the 13th this year in Texas and likely the last in 2011 in the nation s most active capital punishment state. The Texas total is the lowest in 15 years, although at least five prisoners already are scheduled for lethal injection in the early months of 2012.
A babysitter who discovered Vasquez missing in the middle of the night in June 1999 identified Esparza as having visited the residence unannounced hours earlier and promising to return. The girl s mother, Diana Berlanga, told authorities she met Esparza at a bar and he d been calling her even though she d given him the brush-off.
Police went to his apartment about two miles away and found a blood-spotted shirt and boxer shorts belonging to him in a trash bin. When his DNA was found on the child s body, Esparza was charged with capital murder.
Investigators determined the blood on his clothing pulled from the trash was Esparza s and not from Vasquez. But a Bexar County Jail inmate testified that Esparza told him he got rid of the clothing because he didn t want detectives to think the blood came from the slain girl.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 2003 decision upholding his conviction and death sentence, said the discarded clothing amounted to some evidence of his awareness of guilt and the timing of his action showed knowledge of the crime. Esparza, against the advice of his lawyers, twice took the stand at his five-day murder trial. He defiantly responded to questioning from prosecutors and accused them of coaching witnesses.
I ain t a child molester, he insisted. The only thing that would look like that I m guilty of is messing around behind my girlfriend s back, if you want to call it messing around.
Defense attorneys challenged the validity of the DNA obtained from sperm found on the child s body.
Testimony showed Esparza was arrested as a teenager for attempted arson and received juvenile probation, was arrested again for trying to steal a bicycle from a child at knifepoint, had school suspensions and was remembered as a school bully. A woman testified he tried to rape and strangle her when she was 13. In 1984, he was convicted of assault for beating a man with a metal pipe and baseball bat.
Esparza was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1985, although he contended the sex was consensual. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, was paroled in 1990, and was locked up again in 1993 with an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. He was released on mandatory supervision three years later.
His victim in the earlier assault case tearfully testified at his capital murder trial that he was hit in the head with his gun and raped at gunpoint.
In May 1999, just weeks before Vasquez was killed and shortly after Esparza completed a mandatory sex offender treatment program, he showed up at the San Antonio home of a friend, begging to spend the night because his girlfriend had kicked him out, according to court testimony. But he got booted from that home when a 7-year-old girl also staying there told her father Esparza tried to have sex with her and offered her a dollar to go into a bathroom with him. The girl testified she woke up when Esparza put his hand under her shirt.
While in prison, authorities said he was in constant trouble, refused work details, attacked other inmates and became an active member of the Mexican Mafia, a prison gang. While awaiting trial, he asked to be placed in isolation in the Bexar County Jail because he had killed a Mexican Mafia family member, according to court documents.