Page 13


I I 1111111111111 I I I 1 I I II 1 I I 11 I 1 I I I1IIIII11I a ss Extend my Subscription for just $27 0 Yes No Thanks 0 Check enclosed Charge to my VISA Number: Name on card: Street address: City/ST/ZIP: *Phone: * Phone number required for credit card processing. Friend’s name: Street address: City/ST/Z1P: Friend’s name: Street address: City/ST/ZIP: Ejimabo, who is from Africa, about Aggietheir grief and anger, where God was, Rodriguez, his sentence, and what is right. Such questions haunted all the other Herdens whose names I could call. Here was a family that had suffered no closure on Aggie’s death for almost 18 years when lawyers for Rodriguez proposed to Bexar County prosecutors that his new punishment trial be settled by life without parole. The prosecutors asked the Herden family what they wanted. Did they want Texas to insist and contend with every available argument that Rodriguez should be killed? Or did they agree to accept Rodriguez and his family’s proposal to spare Rodriguez, now 41, if he would be locked up for sure for the rest of his life? Conceivably, at the retrial he could win a pardon. The Herden family met. They accepted his being locked up until he dies. “Killer Gets Life with No Parole,” said the headline this January 15 in the San Antonio Express -News. The legal problem, indeed, the constitutional problem, had been how to achieve that result although the law authorizing that alternative had been passed 15 years after the crime. Rodriguez waived his constitutional protection against double jeopardy and pled guilty to three offenses: burglary, assault of an elderly person, and aggravated robbery, which combined equaled a capital crime, and he was sentenced to life for each offense, with the three sentences to run one after another. He also waived any right to appeal, any clemency, or any parole. If he asked for any of these, the Express -News reported, “the state could renew pursuit of a death sentence.” “We structured it so that he would never, never get out of prison and he would never harm anyone else,” prosecutor Melissa Skinner told the newspaper. In the courtroom, as the outcome was settled, my cousin Matthew Herden said to Steve Rodriguez, who did not look back at Matthew, “She was a nice, sweet person. Every time the Fourth of July comes up at 4 o’clock in the morning, I have to think about you putting a knife in my mother.” Matthew added, “I don’t want to hear anything out of you, if you don’t mind.” Sharing the suffering of my kinspeople all these years the Herden family was in some deep way killed by Steve RodriguezI came to understand why a man might want to kill the man who killed his mother. But the Herdens left it to the system and God, and at last, forced to decide, they spared themselves, and were spared, the awful burden of personally participating in killing Steve Rodriguez. To the young people watching all this closely and to the rest of us, the Herdens and the Bexar County prosecutors showed that Texas can forbear killing killers and still protect those of us free in society. Thus we do see real ethical progress in our own place and lifetime. And there is a closure. Martha Herden says it’s as if the family can finally hear Aggie say again, “Let’s go have a couple of drinks.” I am very proud of them, and I know that Aggie is, too. Ronnie Dugger is the founding editor of The Texas Observer. He can be reached at [email protected] FEBRUARY 8, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23