Texas man set to be executed for murder over $100 debt

Reuters

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas man who stabbed another man to death when he failed to pay back a $100 debt to an exotic dancer is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.

The execution of Arturo Diaz by lethal injection is to take place after 6 p.m. CT (2300 GMT) in Huntsville, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. It would be the 13th execution this year in Texas and the 27th in the United States.

Diaz, 37, was convicted of killing Michael Ryan Nichols in April 1999 in McAllen near the Mexican border, after the two spent a night partying with an exotic dancer and friends, according to an account of the incident by the Texas Attorney General's Office.

During the course of the evening, Nichols borrowed $100 from the dancer, who returned the following night to collect her money, the account said.

When Nichols gave her only $50, Diaz arrived with an accomplice, Joe Cordova, who held Nichols while Diaz stabbed him, the account said.

A witness who helped the two men throw away a trash bag that contained Nichols' bloody clothes said he heard them talking about a murder Diaz had committed with Cordova's help.

A psychologist testified during Diaz's trial that he had suffered head trauma as a result of being knocked unconscious during fights and having been in a car accident, all of which could "impair his ability to control and regulate his judgment and perceive reality," according to the official account.

The psychologist also testified that Diaz has a low-average intelligence, the verbal ability of an 11-year-old, and a history of anti-social behavior as a child, according to the account.

Diaz was sentenced to death, and Cordova to life in prison, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website.

Diaz is to be executed using the drug pentobarbital. In August, Texas officials said the state's supply of the drug would run out this month.

But asked this week about how much pentobarbital the state has on hand, a spokesman would only say that the Texas prison system would be using the drug for the foreseeable future.

"We have not changed our current execution protocol and have no immediate plans to do so," said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Clark did not explain what had changed since August.

Clark said the dose that would be used in Diaz's execution is not an expired dose.

Texas switched to pentobarbital, a barbiturate that is the drug of choice for physician-assisted suicide in Europe, when the state had to change drugs after the maker of sodium thiopental, Hospira Inc, stopped manufacturing it.

Denmark's Lundbeck LLC, which makes pentobarbital, has objected to its use in executions, leaving it in short supply as well.

Several states have reported running low on pentobarbital and some have halted executions while they seek access or resolve other lethal injection issues, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

A request from Diaz to stay the execution was denied on Wednesday by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas attorney general's office said. Diaz could still file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday for a stay, it said.

(This story has been corrected in paragraph 14 to change drug company name to Hospira Inc from Lundbeck LLC and in paragraph 15 to correct name to Lundbeck from Hospira)

(Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Greg McCune, Gunna Dickson and Bob Burgdorfer)

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