(Reuters) - A Texas man who confessed to being the ringleader of a ruthless band of murderers was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday, hours after an Arizona man convicted of strangling and stabbing his adoptive mother was put to death.
George Rivas, 41, was pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. local time at a prison unit in Huntsville, Texas, making him the sixth person to be executed in the United States this year.
Rivas was the confessed ringleader of a group that came to be known as the "Texas Seven," a band of convicted robbers, rapists and murderers who broke out of a maximum security prison in Karnes County southeast of San Antonio on December 13, 2000.
He was executed for his role in the murder of police officer Aubrey Hawkins outside an Oshman's Superstore on Christmas Eve in Irving, next to Dallas.
In his last statement, Rivas told his wife and the rest of his family that he loved them, officials said. He thanked the prison officers and said the other death row inmates "have my courtesy and respect."
"For the Aubrey Hawkins family, I do apologize for everything that happened. Not because I am here, but for closure in your hearts," he said. "I really believe that you deserve that."
Before he escaped, Rivas had been serving 17 life sentences for several crimes, including aggravated kidnapping, according to the Texas Attorney General's office.
After a series of robberies in other Texas cities, the group posed as security guards and shoppers and held up the Oshman's, killing Hawkins near the loading dock as they fled with more than $70,000 in cash, 44 firearms, ammunition and other goods, as well as employees' jewelry and wallets.
The fugitives were found in late January 2001 in Colorado following a nationwide manhunt.
Rivas, who was shot during the Oshman's confrontation, later told reporters he deserved to die for his crimes. In an interview published on Sunday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rivas said his appeals were exhausted and that he was ready to be executed.
One gang member, Larry Harper, committed suicide before he could be arrested. Another, Michael Rodriguez, was executed in 2008. The remaining four are all on death row in Texas. Donald Newbury was scheduled to be executed earlier this month, but his execution was stayed pending an unrelated Supreme Court case.
Rivas was the second person executed this year in Texas, which executed 13 people in 2011 and has put to death more than four times as many people as any other state since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Earlier in the day in Arizona, Robert Henry Moormann, 63, died at 10:33 a.m. local time at the state prison complex in Florence, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix, state officials said.
Moormann had been serving a sentence of nine years to life at the Florence prison for kidnapping an 8-year-old girl when he was given a compassionate three-day furlough in January 1984 to visit with his mother.
Authorities said Moormann bound and gagged the 74-year-old woman at the motel where she was staying, before he strangled and stabbed her. He later chopped her body up and disposed of the parts in dumpsters throughout Florence.
With his last words, Moormann apologized to the family of the kidnap victim, saying "I'm sorry for the pain I caused them," according to prison department spokesman Bill Lamoreaux. "I hope this will bring closure and start the healing now. And I hope they will forgive me in time. And that's it."
His final meal consisted of a hamburger, French fries, two beef burritos, three sodas and ice cream, Lamoreaux said.
Moormann was convicted of first-degree murder in 1985 after a jury rejected his insanity defense. Jurors took two hours to reach a verdict.
In a flurry of last-minute appeals, defense attorneys sought to block the execution by claiming that the convicted murderer was mentally retarded and cannot legally be put to death.
Attorneys also objected to the state changing the drugs it uses for the execution, challenging a decision to switch to one drug from a three-drug protocol. The state Department of Corrections on Monday told the Arizona Supreme Court of the change.
Moormann was the fifth inmate put to death in the United States this year, and the first in Arizona this year.
Editing by Tim Gaynor, Greg McCune and Paul Thomasch