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Aug. 14 execution for Texas 7 member

Associated Press Writer

One of the infamous "Texas 7" convicts who escaped from a state prison more than seven years ago and killed a Dallas-area police officer while on the lam now has an execution date.

Michael Rodriguez has been set for lethal injection Aug. 14, Kim Schaefer, a Dallas County assistant district attorney who handles capital cases, said Wednesday.

Rodriguez, 45, ordered his appeals dropped and had been asking the courts for nearly two years to give him a death date.

A federal judge signed off on Rodriguez's request Sept. 27, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a Kentucky challenge to lethal injection as a means of capital punishment. That case stalled executions around the nation. But in a decision last month, the high court ruled lethal injection was not unconstitutionally cruel, clearing the way for capital punishment to resume.

An inmate in Georgia on Tuesday became the first to die since Texas executed convicted killer Michael Richard on Sept. 25. The first Texas inmate set to die now is Derrick Sonnier, scheduled for injection in Huntsville on June 3 for a double slaying in suburban Houston.

Rodriguez told a psychologist who interviewed him in preparation for a competency hearing that he "had to accept his death sentence and submit to it as payment in order to be forgiven and obtain salvation."

Rodriguez and six other inmates overpowered workers at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Connally Unit near Kenedy in South Texas on Dec. 13, 2000, took the workers' clothes, then grabbed 16 guns from the prison armory and fled in a stolen truck.

On Christmas Eve, while robbing a suburban Dallas sporting goods store, they shot Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins 11 times, killing him. The gang, subject of a nationwide manhunt, finally was caught a month later in Colorado.

Rodriguez's capital murder trial was moved to Franklin County, 100 miles northeast of Dallas, because of publicity. A jury there deliberated less than 90 minutes before sending Rodriguez to death row in May 2002 for his part in Hawkins' slaying. Rodriguez admitted pulling the officer from his patrol car. After they shot Hawkins, 29, the Texas 7 ran over him in their getaway car.

Five of Rodriguez's companions also were given death sentences. The seventh fugitive killed himself before he could be recaptured with his comrades in Colorado. Rodriguez would be the first of the group to be executed.

At the time of his escape, he was serving a life term for hiring a hit man to kill his wife, Theresa, 29, to collect her $250,000 life insurance. She was gunned down in 1992 getting out of her car outside their San Antonio home. The triggerman, Rolando Ruiz, also is on death row.

Rodriguez, who received his date Tuesday, is one of two condemned murderers from Dallas County to get execution dates this week, Shaefer said.

On Wednesday, Carlton Turner, who acknowledged fatally shooting his parents at their suburban Dallas home in 1998, was set to die July 10.

On Sept. 27, the same day a federal judge signed off on Rodriguez's execution request, Turner's attorneys raised constitutional claims about Texas lethal injection procedures and won a reprieve from the Supreme Court as Turner waited in a small cell just a few feet from the death chamber.

The reprieve came some four hours after he was scheduled to die and two hours before the death warrant would have expired.

The high court's ruling in the Kentucky case lifted his stay of execution.

Turner was 19 when authorities said he shot his father, Carlton Turner Sr., 43, and his mother, Tonya Turner, 40, several times in the head. He then bought new clothes and jewelry and continued living in the family's home in Irving. Prosecutors said Turner had dragged the bodies through the house before dumping them in the garage, then cleaned up the blood and had friends over for a party.

A foul smell led police to the bodies in the garage three days after the killings.

The two newly scheduled injections bring to at least eight the number of condemned inmates in Texas with execution dates in the coming weeks. Last year, Texas put 26 prisoners to death, the most in the nation.