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Texas set to execute man convicted in botched gang murders

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas man convicted in a 2002 gang-related killing of four women near the Mexico border is set for execution on Thursday.

The execution of Robert Gene Garza, 30, by lethal injection after 6 p.m. CDT (2300 GMT) in Huntsville would be the 12th this year in Texas and the 25th in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The women, all workers at a bar in the tiny town of Donna in the Rio Grande Valley, were the victims of a botched hit, a case of mistaken identity, carried out on the orders of an imprisoned gang leader, according to an account of the case released by the Texas Attorney General's office.

It said Garza and three other men had been told to kill a woman who worked at a local bar because she had testified about a shooting that led to the gang leader's conviction.

The men followed six women from the bar in September 2002 as they drove to a home they shared after a night of work, the prosecutor's office said. When they arrived, two men fired more than 60 bullets into the vehicle, killing four of the women.

Garza admitted to authorities his role in the killing of Dantizene Lizeth Vasquez Beltran, Celina Linares Sanchez, Lourdes Yesenia Araujo Torres, and Maria De La Luz Bazaldua Cobbarubias in Donna, about 10 miles north of the border.

The woman who had testified and been their target had stayed behind to close down the bar.

Garza told authorities he was in the car but had not pulled the trigger, and said the gang leader was angered by the botched hit. Garza also told authorities he had been involved in killing six people four months later in the nearby town of Edinburg, the attorney general's account said.

Garza was convicted of the Donna murders in 2003 and sentenced to death. The three other men authorities said were involved in the Donna killings are awaiting execution for the murders in Edinburg.

Garza filed two appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging his conviction and sentence of death.

(Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Greg McCune and Grant McCool)

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