Texas inmate faces execution for 2001 abduction and strangulation of 5-year-old girl
HOUSTON– A Texas inmate convicted of strangling a 5-year-old girl who was taken from an El Paso store nearly 22 years ago and then burned her body will be executed Thursday evening.
David Renteria, 53, was convicted in the death of Alexandra Flores in November 2001. Prosecutors said Alexandra was Christmas shopping with her family at a Walmart store when she was kidnapped by Renteria. Her body was found the next day in an alley 16 miles from the store.
Renteria has long claimed that members of the Barrio Azteca gang, including someone named “Flaco,” forced him to take the girl by threatening his family – and that it was the gang members who killed her.
Authorities say Renteria’s attorneys did not raise this defense at his trial and evidence in the case shows he committed the kidnapping and murder alone. Prosecutors said blood found in Renteria’s van matched the murdered girl’s DNA. His palm print was found on a plastic bag that was placed over her head before her body was set on fire. Prosecutors said Renteria was a convicted sex offender who was on probation at the time of the killing.
Renteria’s planned execution is one of two to take place in the US on Thursday. In Alabama, Casey McWhorter will receive a lethal injection for fatally shooting a man during a robbery in 1993.
Lawyers for Renteria have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution, which will take place at the state prison in Huntsville.
Renteria’s attorneys claim they have been denied access to the plaintiff’s file on Renteria, which they say violates his constitutional rights. His legal team said the prosecution hampered their ability to investigate Renteria’s claims that gang members were responsible for the girl’s death. They asked the Supreme Court to review a lower federal appeals court’s decision not to review a state court ruling denying access to the file. The Texas attorney general’s office called the appeal a delaying tactic and said Renteria’s attorneys had years before Thursday’s scheduled execution to request access to the file.
Renteria’s attorneys’ claims are based on witness statements released by El Paso police in 2018 and 2020, in which a woman told investigators that her ex-husband, a member of Barrio Azteca, was involved in the death of a girl that went missing from a Walmart.
Renteria “will be executed despite recently discovered evidence of actual innocence, evidence that he is innocent of the death penalty,” Tivon Schardl, one of the lawyers, said in court documents.
A federal judge said in 2018 that the woman’s statement was “riddled with inaccuracies” and “insufficient to prove Renteria’s innocence.”
In August, District Judge Monique Reyes in El Paso granted a request to stay the execution and ordered prosecutors to turn over their files in the case.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later overturned Reyes’ orders.
On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 against commuting Renteria’s death sentence to a lesser sentence. Members also rejected granting a six-month extension.
Renteria was accused of patrolling the store for about 40 minutes before noticing the 5-year-old girl, the youngest of eight children in her family. The grainy surveillance video showed her following Renteria out of the store.
In 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Renteria’s death sentence, saying prosecutors presented misleading evidence that gave jurors the impression that Renteria was unrepentant. Renteria’s lawyers had argued that a statement he made to police after his arrest – in which he expressed his condolences to the girl’s family and that her death was “a tragedy that should never have happened” – was an expression of remorse used to be. The appeals court said Renteria’s expression of remorse “was made in the context of minimizing his responsibility for the offense.”
During a new criminal trial in 2008, Renteria was again sentenced to death.
Renteria would be the eighth inmate in Texas to be put to death this year. If Renteria and McWhorter both receive a lethal injection on Thursday, there would be 23 executions in the US this year
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