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By Norma Herrera
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
An article written...from my home town newspaper.
McALLEN — Norma Herrera’s brother Leonel made her promise one thing days before his 1993 execution.
“He wanted the people to know the truth,” she said. “He wanted me to write his story.”
Herrera, a retired nurse, made good on the promise this year with the publication of Last Words from Death Row.
The 262-page book recounts her brother’s capital murder case, which started in the Rio Grande Valley in 1981, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and ended with his 1993 execution. Leonel maintained he was innocent from the day of his arrest.
The book, priced at $19.95 and printed on demand, is a first-time effort from a woman who saw her three brothers and father get involved in drug trafficking in the Valley.
She doesn’t pull any punches in the book, taking to task the judges and attorneys who initially heard the case against her brother.
She claims Leonel was with her on Sept. 29, 1981, the day Los Fresnos police officer Enrique Carrizales and Texas state trooper David Rucker were killed in separate shootings, and that the jury that heard the case was tainted because two of the jurors knew the police officer her brother was accused of killing.
Leonel proclaimed his innocence from the beginning, insisting that his father and former Hidalgo County sheriff Brig Marmolejo set him up. Marmolejo was convicted in 1994 of taking bribes from drug traffickers. He was released from prison in 2001.
The real killer was Herrera and Leonel’s brother, Raul, Herrera argues in her book. Raul was killed in 1984.
“It was arranged that (Leonel) take the blame,” she said. “(Leonel) was the innocent one.”
Local attorney Hector Villarreal provided a sworn affidavit that Raul, his client, had confessed to the killings for which Leonel was convicted. But Texas law does not allow for evidence of innocence to be introduced beyond 30 days after conviction.
Raul and his father had been involved in a local police bribery scheme and wanted Carrizales and Rucker to be killed, Herrera says.
Working on the book opened many old wounds for her. Her father left his family when she was young and slowly embroiled his sons Raul and Leonel in a shady world of drug dealing, she says.
“It took me a while, because of emotional things,” she said. “But the story is fresh in my mind like it happened yesterday.”
She had grown up worshipping her brothers and father, all great athletes. They were known for their boxing prowess. But when her father left her mother, her three brothers followed. The only one she remained close to was Leonel.
Writing the book was a slow process for Herrera. She had power of attorney for Leonel, so she had easy access to all his attorneys, paperwork and possessions. The access helped her reconstruct the last years before his conviction, which were riddled with cocaine abuse.
Lawyers from across the country pitched in to read the manuscript and give her advice. She found a publisher, Nightengale Press, a few years ago and has been editing the work since then.
“It’s the love of a sister for her brother and vice versa,” said Valeria Connelly, of Nightengale Press. “It also takes to task the justice system in Texas and the United States.”
Connelly hopes initial sales of the book will lead to a publishing contract with a large publishing house.
Now that the book has made it to print, Herrera plans to write fiction based on what happened to her during her brother’s case. She’s satisfied the book would make her brother proud, but it also has another purpose, she says.
“I would actually like for this book to help other inmates who are innocent.”
Andres R. Martinez covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4434.
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