AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas man convicted of killing former co-workers at a car wash in 2000 was executed on Thursday, hours after the execution in Ohio of a man convicted of a 1989 double murder.
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The lethal injections of Robert Wayne Harris in Texas and Donald Palmer in Ohio brought the number of executions in the United States this year to 29.
Prosecutors in Texas said Harris, 40, shot six employees, five fatally at close range, after forcing them to the floor during a robbery at the Mi-T-Fine Car Wash in Irving, Texas, on March 20, 2000. Harris was convicted in two of the deaths.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday refused to halt Harris's execution.
In his appeal, Harris, who was black, claimed that his rights were violated when prosecutors refused to seat blacks on his jury, leaving an all-white jury to return a guilty verdict.
Prosecutors said Harris worked for 10 months at Mi-T-Fine before being fired on March 17, 2000, for exposing himself to a female customer.
Three days later, according to prosecutors, Harris returned to rob the car wash, and in the course of his robbery shot six employees, five fatally in the back of the head at close range, after forcing them to the floor.
Harris was charged in two of the deaths - those of Agustin Villasenor and Rhoda Wheeler - and the Dallas jury took less than 15 minutes to return a guilty verdict.
"I'm going home, I'm going home," Harris said as part of his final statement, according to Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Texas has conducted more executions than any other U.S. state since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 after a four-year hiatus.
The execution of Palmer, 47, was the second in Ohio in 2012.
He was convicted of killing Charles Sponhaltz, 43, and Steven Vargo, 41, in Belmont County in eastern Ohio.
Palmer apologized to the Vargo and Sponhaltz families in a final statement he read on Thursday. The families of both men had opposed clemency.
"I wanted you to know I've carried you in my heart for years and years," Palmer said, according to the state corrections department. "I'm so sorry for what I took from you.
"The Lord has taken from me what I took from you. I know what it is like to lose a parent, sibling and child. I wish I could bring it back to you, but I can't."
According to court documents, Palmer did not know Sponhaltz or Vargo. He had gone to the area to rob a man who had dated his ex-wife, or burglarize the house where the man lived.
Palmer confessed to shooting Sponhaltz twice in the head in a confrontation after the car Palmer was riding in bumped a pickup truck driven by Sponhaltz. He said the killing was an accident.
Palmer killed Vargo, an emergency medical technician, who had stopped to check on the scene, because he was afraid Vargo might have seen him kill Sponhaltz, prosecutors said.
(Reporting By Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Ohio; Corrie MacLaggan in Austin, Texas, and Terry Baynes and Jonathan Stempel in New York.)
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