A Texas inmate convicted of fatally shooting an El Paso high school senior after robbing and sexually assaulting her was executed Thursday evening in the nation’s busiest death penalty state.
William Josef Berkley was condemned to death for the March 2000 slaying of 18-year-old Sophia Martinez, whose body was found in the desert outside El Paso after being robbed at a drive-through ATM. She had been shot in the head five times and there was evidence she’d been raped.
Berkley was the sixth Texas inmate to receive lethal injection this year. Ten other prisoners are set to die over the next three months.
During his final statement, Berkley did not mention Martinez nor look at or speak to the mother and two sisters of the victim. In an interview with The Associated Press before his execution, Berkley denied killing Martinez.
In his brief statement, Berkley thanked his girlfriend, a friend and his spiritual adviser, who were at the execution, for their love and support.
“Warden, let her rip,” Berkley said, just before the lethal injection was administered.
As the drugs took effect, he gasped at least twice. Nine minutes later, at 6:18 p.m. CDT, he was pronounced dead.
In a statement, MaryAnn Martinez, the victim’s sister, said she and her family attended the execution so that their loved one wasn’t forgotten.
“Today is not about revenge. That’s not in our hands,” MaryAnn Martinez told reporters after the execution. “Today is not about closure. Making peace with her death and absence only comes from God. Today is not about anyone else other than Sophia.”
The U.S. Supreme Court turned down Berkley’s appeal late Thursday. The high court last year refused to review his case. On Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his appeal.
Martinez was robbed after pulling up to a drive-through ATM to withdraw $20 for spending on a Friday night.
A surveillance camera caught the robbery on tape and showed a man prosecutors said was Berkley forcing his way into Martinez’s car. After being forced to withdraw $200 from the ATM, Martinez drove off with Berkley.
Two days later, Martinez’s body was found in the desert about 10 miles away.
As an alibi, Berkley said he and a friend, Michael Angelo Jacques, were going to break into a home to steal some cocaine the night Martinez was killed when that plan got sidetracked and Berkley “got picked up by four girls” and went off with them. But Berkley said he didn’t know the women’s last names.
Jacques, accused of planning the robbery and hiding evidence, now is serving life in prison.
But Jaime Esparza, the El Paso district attorney who prosecuted Berkley, said there was plenty of evidence the condemned inmate killed Martinez, including a signed confession where he admitted shooting the teenager.
“His guilt really was overwhelming,” said Esparza, who also attended the execution.
The jury was shown a photo from the surveillance camera that prosecutors said was Berkley.
Frank Macias, Berkley’s lawyer at his 2002 trial, said the photo was “a bad picture” but was “difficult to refute.”
In addition to the photo, prosecutors had DNA evidence showing Berkley had sex with Martinez.
Berkley insisted the sex was consensual because he and Martinez had been friends for several months.
Esparza said there was no evidence indicating Martinez knew him. MaryAnn Martinez called Berkley’s declaration “absolutely ridiculous.”
Berkley, a self-described marijuana-smoking, baggy-jeans-wearing, “sarcastic smart ass,” was born in Germany, where his father was posted with the U.S. Army. His family moved to El Paso when he was in the fourth grade. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade.
Berkley said he had dual citizenship with Germany. The German government didn’t step in to intervene in the case.
Scheduled next for the Texas death chamber is Samuel Bustamante, 40, facing execution Tuesday for the fatal stabbing of a 28-year-old man during a robbery in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston.