A Texas inmate convicted of strangling a 5-year-old girl taken from an El Paso store and then burning her body nearly 22 years ago is scheduled for execution Thursday evening.
David Renteria, 53, was condemned for the November 2001 death of Alexandra Flores. Prosecutors said that Alexandra was Christmas shopping with her family at a Walmart store when she was abducted 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 one named “Flaco,” forced him to take the girl by making threats to his family — and that it was the gang members who killed her.
Authorities say Renteria’s lawyers did not raise this defense at his trial and evidence in the case shows that he committed the abduction and killing alone. Prosecutors said that blood found in Renteria’s van matched the slain girl’s DNA. His palm print was found on a plastic bag that was put over her head before her body was set on fire. Prosecutors said Renteria was a convicted sex offender on probation at the time of the killing.
Renteria’s scheduled execution is one of two set to be carried out in the U.S. on Thursday. In Alabama, Casey McWhorter is set to receive a lethal injection for fatally shooting a man during a 1993 robbery.
Attorneys for Renteria have filed unsuccessful appeals asking state and federal courts to halt the execution, which is set take place at the state penitentiary in Huntsville. A final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was expected after appeals to a lower court concluded.
Renteria’s lawyers argue they have been denied access to the prosecution’s file on Renteria, which they argued violates his constitutional rights. His legal team said the prosecution hindered their ability to investigate Renteria’s claims that gang members were responsible for the girl’s death.
The claims by Renteria’s lawyers 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 Barrio Azteca member, was involved in the death of a girl who had gone missing from a Walmart.
Renteria “will be executed despite recently uncovered evidence of actual innocence, evidence that he is innocent of the death penalty,” Tivon Schardl, one of the defense lawyers, said in court documents.
A federal judge in 2018 said that the woman’s statement was “fraught with inaccuracies” and was “insufficient to show Renteria’s innocence.”
In August, state 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 penalty. Members also rejected granting a six-month reprieve.
Renteria was accused of patrolling the store for about 40 minutes before zeroing in on 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 threw out Renteria’s death sentence, saying prosecutors provided misleading evidence that gave jurors the impression Renteria was not remorseful. Renteria’s lawyers had argued that a statement he made to police after his arrest — in which he expressed sympathy for the girl’s family and that her death was “a tragedy that should never have happened” — was an expression of remorse. The appeals court said Renteria’s expression of remorse was “made in the context of minimizing his responsibility for the offense.”
During a new resentencing 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 Thursday, there would be 23 executions this year in the U.S.