HUNTSVILLE, Texas — The 19-year-old was already wanted in Dallas in the fatal shooting of a neighbor when he got involved in a brawl outside a club, pulled out a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and opened fire on police as they tried to break up the fight.
Licho Escamilla's bullets twice struck Christopher Kevin James, among four uniformed Dallas officers working off-duty security that 2001 Thanksgiving weekend, knocking him to the ground. Escamilla then calmly walked up to James and pumped three more shots into the back of his head before running and exchanging shots with other officers, witnesses said. A wounded Escamilla was arrested as he tried to carjack a truck.
On Wednesday night, Escamilla is slated to become the 24th convicted killer put to death this year in the United States — with Texas accounting for half of the execution.
The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to review the 33-year-old's case, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday decided against a reprieve and recommending clemency and no new appeals were in the courts Tuesday.
"He's a really bad guy," trial prosecutor Fred Burns said Tuesday. "I think what happened is the guy already committed one murder and figures that's what (officers) were coming after him for."
A warrant had been issued for Escamilla in the shooting death of a West Dallas neighbor nearly three weeks before James' death on Nov. 25, 2001. Escamilla's trial attorneys told jurors he was responsible for James' slaying but argued it didn't merit a death sentence because James was not officially on duty, meaning the crime didn't qualify as a capital murder.
As the judge in October 2002 read his death sentence, Escamilla threw of pitcher of water at the jury, started kicking and hitting people and hid under the defense table until he was subdued by sheriff's deputies.
"It was a real scene," Wayne Huff, Escamilla's lead trial lawyer, said. "I don't think there was any real doubt he was going to be found guilty."
Testimony showed Escamilla bragged to emergency medical technicians who were treating his wounds that he had killed an officer and injured another and that he'd be out of jail in 48 hours. He also admitted to the slaying during a television interview from jail.
James, 34, had earned dozens of commendations during his nearly seven years on the Dallas police force after graduating at the top of his cadet class. He was working the off-duty security job to earn extra money so he and his new wife could buy a house. A second officer wounded in the gunfire survived.
According to court documents, Escamilla and some older brothers were involved in gang activities and sold and used drugs from an early age. He was involved in two high-speed police chases and an assault on an assistant principal in school, where he dropped out after the eighth grade.