A Texas murderer convicted of killing his wife, two young daughters and other family members after smoking crack cocaine is scheduled to be executed after 17 years on death row on Thursday.
Abel Ochoa, 47, is to be killed at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville at 6pm CST after he was found guilty of capital murder in 2003, despite recent efforts to appeal his execution with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ochoa was sentenced to death in the fatal shootings of his wife, Cecilia, 32, 7-year-old daughter, Crystal, and his 9-month-old daughter, Anahi. He also killed his father-in-law, 56-year-old Bartolo Alvizo; and sister-in-law Jacqueline Saleh, 20.
Alma Alvizo, another sister-in-law, was shot and seriously injured.
On August 4, 2002, 20 minutes after smoking $10 worth of crack cocaine, Ochoa used a .9mm Ruger handgun to shoot Cecilia, Anahi, Bartolo and Jackie inside the family’s living room.
He then reloaded the handgun and chased young Crystal into the kitchen, where he shot her four times in the back.
Although gravely injured, Alvizo managed to escape the house and desperately ran to a neighbors home in search of help. She would subsequently spend three months in a hospital and lose a kidney.
The incident began after Ochoa, who had been struggling with addiction for two years, returned home from church with his family.
Due to his addiction, Ochoa spent up to $300 a week on cocaine, stole money from his wife and took out small loans to support his drug habit.
It also cost him his job as a truck driver, which he held for more than a decade, leaving him out of work for several months before the murders.
Court records say Ochoa had undergone rehabilitation for his addiction, but soon began using again after his release.
On that August morning, Ochoa had gone 10 days without smoking crack cocaine and had become desperate for another fix.
Ochoa had convinced his wife to help purchase crack cocaine to satiate his physical cravings and proceeded to smoke the drug in his backyard while his family gathered inside the home.
But the temporary fix wasn’t enough.
‘While I was lying on the bed my body started wanting more crack. I knew if I asked my wife for more money to buy some more crack she wouldn’t let me have it,’ Ochoa said in his confession to police.
Ochoa’s attorneys say that he killed his family in a cocaine-induced delirium.
‘The gun was already loaded, and I walked into the living room where my family was. I started shooting while they were all sitting on the couch,’ Ochoa told police, The Texas Tribune reports.
Ochoa then took his wife’s ATM card and drove the family’s car to Wynnewood Village Shopping Center to withdraw money to purchase more drugs.
Authorities later stopped his vehicle and arrested him.
‘Ochoa told the arresting officer that the gun he used was at his house on the table, that he could not handle the stress anymore, and that he had gotten tired of his life,’ court records showed.
Troubles for Ochoa began in 1997, after learning that his wife had a child with another man before the two married.
Alvizo said in court that the couple’s relationship was difficult and Ochoa had pointed a gun at Cecilia just three weeks before the killings.
In court, Ochoa’s defense argued that his drug used prompted the slayings in an effort to sway the jury towards a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
‘Mr. Ochoa was intoxicated and in a delirium. Five people did not die because Cecilia had lied to Mr. Ochoa and he happened to find out about it five years prior to the murders,’ his attorneys said in a 2010 briefing.
A psychiatrist testified that Ochoa was in a ‘drug-induced delirium’ during the murders, citing brain damage and saying abstaining from crack cocaine for 10 days would bring on a state of psychosis.
A separate psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution said the small amount of drug’s Ochoa smoked was ‘quite unlikely’ to have caused delirium.
‘I think it’s a matter of anger. I think he was extremely frustrated with his situation,’ Richard Coons, the state’s forensic psychiatrist, said.
In Ochoa’s most recent appeals, he argued that his execution should be halted because a sheriff’s deputy didn’t return a receipt of the execution warrant to the district clerk.
On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied the motion.
His defense also argued that the prison system didn’t allow him to be videotaped for his clemency petition.
‘Mr. Ochoa presented a compelling case for commutation to a life sentence given his deep and sincere remorse for his crime, the positive impact he has had on guards and other inmates, his personal story of redemption, and his remarkable faith and relationship with God,’ his attorney wrote to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
‘Given his unique story, Mr. Ochoa retained a professional videographer to conduct a filmed interview with Mr. Ochoa to present to the Clemency Board.’
A federal judge allowed the recording last month, but have maintained that this does not override his conviction.
Ochoa will be the second inmate in Texas and the third in the U.S. to be executed in 2020.
In 2019, Texas executed nine prisoners and, in total, has executed more people than any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.