Man executed for killing Houston drug dealer

November 10, 2009 5:04:24 PM PST
A Cuban-born man identified as a leader in a Hispanic prison gang exhausted his appeals and has been put to death Tuesday evening for the robbery-slaying of a Houston drug dealer more than 10 years ago. Yosvanis "El Cubano" Valle denied fatally shooting 28-year-old Jose Martin Junco at a Houston home in June 1999 but said there was little he could do to avoid lethal injection that would make him the 21st inmate executed in Texas this year.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year refused to review his case. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles last week rejected a request from his lawyers that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison.

"We really don't have a leg to stand on," attorney Roland Moore said.

Junco, known as "Yogi," was confronted at his Houston home by several men connected to a prison gang who had targeted him for robbery. Court documents showed the June 1999 holdup was a test devised by Valle to see if one of the gang members, Kenneth Isaac Estrada, had the courage to shoot Junco.

After the shooting, Valle, identified as leader of the group, bragged about how he emptied the 10 shots from his 9 mm pistol into Junco. Evidence showed Estrada shot the victim once.

"My people turned on me," he told The Associated Press recently from a small visiting cage outside death row. "I know one thing: I know the person I am. I'm not this monster that the state of Texas is trying to make me look like."

Estrada was arrested after Junco's girlfriend identified him as one of the gunmen. She was in the house at the time of the shooting.

Valle was arrested when his fingerprint was found in a car tied to another slaying, one of several authorities tied to him.

Estrada, tried separately, got life in prison.

Valle got death.

He said witnesses who testified against him "changed their story."

"People were lying," he said. "It's frustrating to talk about this, changing back and forth, making deals in a way that looks good to them."

One of Valle's trial lawyers, Robert Morrow, said the state's case was "based on a lot of snitch testimony." He also said Valle's punishment defense was hampered by witnesses unable to leave Cuba because of U.S. government restrictions on travel between the two countries.

"I felt we were hamstrung," he said.

Valle grew up in Cuba and came to the U.S. at age 14 to join his father. That was nearly a decade after his father had been expelled from Cuba and came to the U.S. as part of the Marielitos immigration wave in 1980.

At his trial and in appeals, attorneys argued Valle had been abused as a child living in poverty in Cuba, leading to his aggressive behavior, and then had difficulties fitting in when he came to America.

As a juvenile, he was convicted of aggravated assault and was sent to the Texas Youth Commission, then went to state prison with an eight-year sentence for a weapons possession conviction. In prison, he joined the gang La Raza Unida, or A Race United.

Prosecutors said Junco's robbery and slaying, about two years after Valle was released from prison, was intended to raise money for gang members and their relatives.

Valle, described as a sergeant in the gang, had been out of prison about two years when Junco was shot and robbed of a cookie tin containing money, a small amount of drugs, pornographic photos and two rifles.

"I know I can take this with peace," Valle said, promising he wouldn't fight when time came to go to the death chamber. "I want to leave something with my family -- a good impression."

The 34-year-old became the 21st inmate executed in Texas this year. Three more Texas prisoners are set to die next week.

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