Spider Gonzales gets execution stay

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has issued a stay of execution for Michael Dean Gonzales, who had been scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday in the April 1994 deaths of Manuel and Merced Aguirre.

Joshua Freiman, assistant federal public defender, said he received notice of the stay telephonically Thursday afternoon.

Authorities believe Gonzales stabbed the Aguirres to death after they woke up to find Gonzales, their neighbor, burglarizing their home on April 22, 1994. He was convicted and sentenced to death in December 1995. He was sentenced to death again in 2009.

Last week, federal public defenders asked Ector County District Court Judge John Schrode to halt the execution saying they have new evidence they believe could prove Gonzales didn’t kill the elderly couple. They also alleged he shouldn’t be executed because he is “intellectually disabled,” the state “knowingly elicited” false testimony and the prosecution suppressed evidence that could have cast doubt on Gonzales’ guilt.

The Court of Appeals ruled that Schrode needs to look into the matter of Gonzales’ intellectual disability and the allegation that the prosecution suppressed evidence.

Defense attorney Richard Burr said they say believe an Odessa man who was interviewed following the couple’s slaying is the actual killer. On late Wednesday afternoon he filed a motion requesting DNA tests to prove that man’s guilt.

Burr contends in court documents that:

>> The alternative suspect was interviewed after the slayings and the lead detective observed a cut on his left arm. The man and two other suspects were never charged and prosecutors contended at Gonzales’ trial he acted alone.

>> Blood stain experts believe recently discovered stains inside a flannel shirt found in the alternative suspect’s closet after the deaths could belong to the alternative suspect. Blood on the outside of the shirt has already been matched to the Aguirres.

>> Blood stain experts believe blood drops found on tile in the Aguirres’ house and on Merced Aguirres’ housecoat likely came from the killer and theoretically could be linked to the alternative suspect.

>> When told by a defense investigator in October 2021 that blood found inside the house did not match the Aguirres or Gonzales the alternative suspect replied “that blood is probably mine. In August 2021, a new witness told a defense investigator the alternative suspect confessed to murdering Merced Aguirre, but he hadn’t come forward because he “was too concerned” about his own problems. Plus, he’d spent several years in state and federal prison.

Burr also states in court documents that Odessa Police Department Crime Scene Unit Supervisor Stephanie Bothwell recently found 136 latent fingerprint cards in a storage box. They are prints that were collected from victims’ home and more than 60 fingerprints are suitable for comparison purposes. The attorneys wrote it will take months to compare the fingerprints to other known fingerprints.

Manuel and Merced Aguirre with their sons, Ismael, Manuel Jr., Ricardo and Fernando. (Courtesy Photo)

Burr is also asking for additional DNA testing to be done.

Richard Aguirre, the second oldest of the Aguirres’ four sons, said he was “very, very disappointed.”

“I’m very sad it was stayed and I hope it doesn’t take another couple of years,” to work through the appeals, Aguirre said.

Gonzales is currently the only person convicted by an Ector County jury on death row.

To see full Stay Order click here.

Spider Gonzales Timeline

Manuel and Merced Aguirre were born in Marfa and married there in July 1950. They moved to Odessa in 1952. Manuel was a mechanic for TU Electric Company for 26 years before retiring in 1983. The World War II Army veteran was a member of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Merced was an accounting clerk for the City of Odessa’s sanitation department until her retirement in 1991. They were survived by four sons and three grandchildren.

April 22, 1994 – The bodies of World War II veteran Manuel Aguirre, 73, and Merced Aguirre, 65, were found stabbed to death inside their home at 220 Schell Street in South Odessa. Manuel Aguirre Jr. found them.

April 26, 1994 – Crime Stoppers offers a $1,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest or indictment of those involved. Detective Sgt. Snow Robertson announced no suspects had been named, but detectives did have leads.

May 7, 1994 – Michael Dean “Spider” Gonzales, 20, of 218 Schell Street, was arrested on capital murder charges in the deaths of the Aguirres at 1100 South Lincoln Avenue. Police said the motive appeared to be robbery. Gonzales’ nickname stems from two of his tattoos.

July 18, 1994 – Gonzales was indicted on a capital murder charge and Ector County District Attorney John Smith announces he’ll seek the death penalty. It was the first time in more than 10 years county prosecutors had sought the ultimate sentence. As of that date 384 men and four women were on death row.

Nov. 27, 1995 – Jury selection begins in Gonzales’ capital murder trial.

Dec. 5, 1995 – Manuel Aguirre Jr. was the first witness. He testified he checked on his parents on April 22, 1994 after being unable to get through to them on the phone the evening prior. John Smith and Preston Stevens were the prosecutors, Benny Lowe and Gary Garrison represented Gonzales. Detective Sgt. Snow Robertson testified items stolen from the Aguirres’ home were found in the possession of several people who said they’d bought them from Gonzales. He also testified the same type of red peppers found scattered around Merced Aguirres’ body were found in a bowl at Gonzales’ home.

Dec. 6, 1995 – Dr. Sparks Veasey testifies during Gonzales’ trial that Merced Aguirre fought for her life and had so many wounds he couldn’t say exactly how many times she’d been stabbed and cut. She died on the kitchen floor. Manuel Aguirre was stabbed 11 times in the neck and chest and received several defensive wounds while sitting in an easy chair. An Odessa detention officer testified Gonzales confessed to him and an Odessa police officer testified Gonzales’ fingerprints were found on a stereo Gonzales sold to an Odessa couple along with a microwave and videocassette recorder. Julian Olivares said he also wanted to buy a gun that later turned out to be Manuel Aguirres, but Gonzales refused to sell it to him.

Dec. 7, 1995 – Gonzales is convicted of capital murder.

Dec. 8, 1995 – Jurors sentence Gonzales to death after three hours of deliberations. They had to determine Gonzales posed a continuing threat to society and there were no mitigating circumstances involved in the case. Defense attorney Gary Garrison had argued Gonzales had learning disabilities, a mental illness and a “horrific childhood.”

Feb. 8, 1996 – Judge Bill McCoy denied Gonzales’ motion for a new trial after hearing four hours of testimony and attorneys’ arguments. Defense attorney Bill Bowden had argued Gary Garrison had failed to pursue a police report showing a test that illuminates trace blood in the dark had turned out to be inconclusive.

November 14, 1997 – The Ector County District Attorney’s Office files its response to defense attorney William Bowden’s motion for a retrial. Bowden claimed 18 errors occurred during Gonzales’ trial and he was entitled to a new trial. He argued Judge Bill McCoy erred when he allowed jurors to hear evidence that the Aguirres were afraid of Gonzales because of earlier break-ins they attributed to him and because he was a gang member. The jurors were also told two teardrop tattoos Gonzales had often represent the number of people a person has killed. In addition, the defense attorney argued the jurors should not have heard about the confession Gonzales allegedly made to the detention center officer, nor should they have heard that Gonzales referred to himself as the devil.

June 3, 1998 – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Gonzales’ conviction and death sentence.

November 1999 – Having exhausted his appeals in the state court system, Gonzales begins to petition the federal courts. At that time, death row prisoners were spending an average of 10 years in prison prior to being executed.

Dec. 5, 2000 – Gonzales’ execution is set for April 21, 2001. He appeals.

March 15, 2001 – Defense attorneys Steven Losch of Longview and Adrienne Urrutia of San Antonio argued in federal court Gonzales deserved a new trial. They said one of his original attorneys, Benny Lowe, had a drinking problem and the other, Gary Garrison, was unqualified to defend him. They also said the men had failed to present evidence suggesting the possibility of other suspects.

Aug. 3, 2006 – The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Gonzales’ conviction, but overturns his sentence. Gonzales’ sentence is overturned because an expert witness from his first trial was found to be racially biased in a Collin County murder case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

May 28, 2008 – Judge Bill McCoy denies a motion that would’ve allowed Gonzales’ attorneys, Woody Leverett and Jason Leach, to withdraw from the case and seals the original motion.

December 2008 – The Texas Attorney General’s Office takes on the case after then Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland recuses his office. First Assistant District Attorney Linda Deaderick and former OPD Detective Sgt. Snow Robertson had been married.

May 4, 2009 – Gonzales’ is kicked out of the courtroom twice on the first day of his resentencing hearing after expletive-laced tirades. One of the tirades came after his wife, Martha Reyes, took the stand for the prosecution.

May 7, 2009 – A jury once again sentences Gonzales, 35, to death, this time after deliberating two hours and 25 minutes. When given a chance to speak, Gonzales said “Y’all can (expletive) kill me. Makes me no (expletive) difference. Pass the witness,” he told the jury. Granddaughter Riki Aguirre vows her face “will be one of the faces” Gonzales will see when he takes his last breath.

Nov. 27, 2012 – A new execution date of March 21, 2013 is later scheduled.

January 2013 – Federal District Judge Robert Junell issues a stay of execution.

July 2014 – Gonzales’ defense attorneys file a motion to remove his case from the federal appellate system back to the state system claiming that when he waived his rights to a “habeas corpus review” of his case he was mentally incompetent to do so.

October 2014 – A federal judge sends Gonzales’ case back to state court so his attorneys can exhaust his appeal on the state court level.

June 2015 – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rules Gonzales’ appeal was improperly filed and rejected it without considering its merits.

September 2015 – The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals again refuses Gonzales’ appeal, thereby lifting a federal stay imposed in 2014. His attorneys file another petition claiming Gonzales was incompetent to stand trial at his sentencing hearing in 2009.

Sept. 1, 2021 – Ector County Judge John Shrode schedules Gonzales’ execution for March 8, 2022.

Death Row Facts

There are 198 people on Texas’ Death Row at present, including six women.

Roughly 46% of Death Row inmates are Black, 26% white, 26% Hispanic and 3% are listed as “other.”

Since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed 573 inmates, including three in 2021.

Joe Gonzales, who was convicted of capital murder in Potter County, spent the least amount of time on Death Row prior to his execution in September 1996, 252 days.

David Lee Powell, who was convicted of capital murder in Travis County, spent the most amount of time on Death Row prior to his execution in June 2010, 11,575 days or 31 years.

Harvey Earvin has been on Death Row since October 1977, making him the longest Death Row inmate. Earvin, who turns 64 next month, shot a 75-year-old Lufkin service station attendant to death during an attempted robbery in December 1976. He was 18 at the time.

The youngest inmates to be executed were 24 at the time of their deaths; the oldest was 70.

Harris County has the highest number of executed inmates at 297, followed by Dallas County with 108 and Bexar County with 77.Tarrant County has had 75 inmates executed.

There are 15 people on Death Row who are not American citizens. They hail from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Argentina, Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Vietnam. All but four were convicted in Harris County.

Besides Michael Dean Gonzales, four Death Row inmates are scheduled to be executed this year, including two next month, Carl Buntion and Melissa Lucio.