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Roderick ABEYTA





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Drugs
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 1989
Date of birth: 1954
Victim profile: Donna Martin, 38 (his former girlfriend)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Clark County, Nevada, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Nevada on October 5, 1998
A man who broke into his ex-girlfriend's house in search of drugs and shot her twice in the head while she slept was executed by injection early Monday. Roderick Abeyta, 44, had admitted that he killed Donna Martin, 38, in Las Vegas in 1989. As prison officials led Abeyta into the death chamber, he looked at three members of Ms. Martin's family and said: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry.''

In a September interview, Abeyta said he tried after his conviction to avoid execution, but eventually decided he did not wish to "manipulate the system.'' Last spring he wrote a judge to say he wanted to be executed. "I'm seeking to be held accountable for my actions,'' he said. "I did a terrible wrong and I recognize that.''

Abeyta spent most of his adult life in prison in California and Nevada. Raised near San Francisco, Abeyta said he was abused by his father and wound up in foster homes and eventually in California Youth Authority camps. At age 14, he began using methamphetamine and at 17 he was caught driving a stolen car. He was twice convicted of robbery before he killed Ms. Martin.


Abeyta executed for 89 LV murder

Las Vegas Sun

Mon, Oct 5, 1998

CARSON CITY -- Roderick Abeyta was executed early today by lethal injection for the murder of his former Las Vegas girlfriend while weeping relatives of the victim looked on.

His last words, according to state Prison Director Bob Bayer, were "expressions of true remorse" and hope that his death "would help in the healing process for the family."

Three members of the immediate family of Donna Martin stood in the front row as witnesses, only about 18 inches from the death chamber. They watched as the 46-year-old Abeyta was strapped to a table and given an injection of three deadly drugs. The chemicals started flowing into his left arm at 12:13 a.m., and he was pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m.

The Martin family members were not identified, and they left by car without talking to reporters. The three women held hands and occasionally wiped away tears as they watch Abeyta die.

"Everything went smoothly," Bayer said. However, the execution was delayed several minutes because of troubles locating a "good vein" for a backup needle in case the first injection failed. Abeyta had collapsed veins because of his previous drug use.

"He (Abeyta) tried to assist in what vein might work," Bayer said. The inmate suggested the second needle go in his left arm also, and he flexed his hand to help in the process.

Abeyta, who did not pursue additional court appeals in his behalf, never looked at the 24 people in the room who were witnessing the execution. There were nine official witnesses, eight members of the news media plus prison staff and a representative of the office of Gov. Bob Miller.

Outside the Nevada State Prison, where the execution took place, there were about 30 protesters, some carrying candles and others holding signs that said, "Stop The Violence" and "Stop the Killing." The group was led by the Rev. Chuck Durante, a Catholic priest from Reno, in chanting hymns and praying for Abeyta, the victim and both families.

Abeyta spent much of his final day on the telephone, including a call to a Reno television station. He had visits from Chaplain Al Fry of the prison in Carson City and from the Rev. Jim Kelly, chaplain of the prison in Ely where death-row inmates are housed.

He ate the regular prison meal of Salisbury steak, stewed tomatoes, tossed salad, a potato and iced tea. His only special request was for vanilla ice cream.

Traditionally the inmate is sedated about an hour before the execution so that he won't offer any resistance. But Abeyta requested he not be given any drugs ahead of time. "He wanted to meet his maker with a clear mind," the prison director said.

"From the religious point of view, he (Abeyta) didn't want to escape accountability," Bayer said.

State Archivist Guy Rocha said Abeyta was the 69th person executed in Nevada since 1860.

Abeyta was the seventh person to die since 1977 after the death penalty was reinstated. The most recent prior execution was March 30, 1996, when Richard Moran of Las Vegas was put to death.

Five guards led Abeyta into the cream-colored death chamber on the second floor of the prison. He wore jeans, a light-colored shirt and white Nike basketball shoes.

His hands and legs were strapped to the table, and there were four other straps over the rest of his body. Abeyta stared at the ceiling, without looking at any of the witnesses who were bunched along the rail outside the chamber.

The shades to the three windows in the chamber were drawn after Abeyta was secured. Those witnessing the execution waited in mostly in silence.

When the shades were lifted 25 minutes later, the "death needles" had been injected. Abeyta continued to look at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and took two deep breaths. He was dead two minutes after the chemicals started to flow into his veins.

Among those witnessing the execution was Michael Pescetta, a deputy federal public defender who was ready to file an appeal to stop the execution if Abeyta gave the word. But Abeyta "was resolute" in wanting to be executed, prison officials said.

Also on hand was Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, the senior member of the Nevada Legislature, and Gordon Absher, press secretary for the governor. Prison officials said the official witnesses also included two prosecutors and a member of the staff of Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.

Abeyta had been in and out of prison during much of his life. He was living with Martin, 38, in 1989 when he reconciled with his wife, Barbara. But after a fight with Barbara, he and his half-brother, Casey Korsmo, started on a drinking spree.

They wanted drugs so they went to the Martin home where they broke a window to gain entrance. Martin was apparently passed out from drug use. When the two could not find any narcotics, Abeyta sat on her back, grabbed her hair and shot her twice in the head.

Korsmo is serving a life term in prison with the possibility of parole after his guilty plea to first-degree murder for his role in the case.

Extra security was on duty at the prison for the execution, but Bayer said there were not any problem with the inmates during the day.


Roderick Abeyta, 99-10-5, Nevada

Roderick Abeyta mouthed the words "I'm sorry," to 3 members of Donna Martin's family before quietly lying down and being executed by lethal injection early today.

Abeyta killed Martin, his former girlfriend, in Las Vegas in 1989.

The inmate, who refused a sedative to relax him for the execution, was strapped to a table in what was formerly the gas chamber at the Nevada State Prison.

He was administered intravenously a combination of 3 drugs, 2 of them lethal.

Abeyta went to his execution voluntarily, saying it was morally wrong for him to fight his sentence. It was the 1st execution in Nevada in more than 2 years and the 7th since capital punishment was reinstituted by the 1977 legislature.

8 media representatives, 9 witnesses and several prison officials observed the execution through a glass partition.

At 11:48 p.m. Sunday, the curtains were lowered in the execution chamber so the intravenous needles could be inserted away from witnesses.

2 of the witnesses, members of Martin's family, sobbed quietly as the execution was performed. At 12:13 a.m. the blinds were raised and Abeyta could be seen strapped to the table, staring straight up. He took a few breaths and then was still.

"He was very calm throughout the process and just submitted to the process as he said he would," Prison Director Bob Bayer said.

Just hours before the execution, about 2 dozen people from area Catholic churches held a candlelight vigil near the prison grounds, protesting Abeyta's death.

They held signs that said: "Jesus was executed. What would he say?" And "We pray for those who carry out the execution."

Minden resident Dirk Wunderlich said protesters were urged at weekend church services to come out Sunday evening and peacefully object to the execution.

The Catholic Church has long been an opponent of capital punishment.

"We view it as not really different from the original crime," Wunderlich said.

Inside the prison, Abeyta spent his final hours watching television and making calls. He did not request any special food for his last meal.

Department of Prisons spokesman Glen Whorton said Abeyta was moved to the "last night" cell, just across from the execution chamber, at about noon. He received no family or other outside visitors but spent time with prison Chaplain Al Fry.

Father Jim Kelly, who counsels inmates at Ely State Prison where Abeyta had served time on death row, also visited with him.

Abeyta, 44, had been on death row only a short time, having been convicted by a jury in 1996 for the murder of Martin, 38, in October 1989.

But like several death row inmates before him, Abeyta chose to proceed with his execution rather than fight his sentence in the courts.

Abeyta said he voluntarily underwent a psychological examination to preclude the U.S. Public Defender's office from interceding on his or a family member's behalf to stop the execution, as has been done in other death penalty cases.

As a result, there were no last-minute appeals or court decisions that could have stayed the execution.

Only Abeyta himself could have stopped it.

In an interview Sept. 25, Abeyta said: "You would have to be some kind of superhuman not to have some kind of thoughts about it. But I also know I'm not going to let my instinct for survival kick in."

His execution was protested by Bishop Phillip Straling of the Catholic Diocese of Reno, who said it"denies the sacredness of life, which mandates that no human life can be taken away as punishment."

But Abeyta, who is Catholic, said the Bible told him that he had to submit to the rule of the state, even if it meant his execution.

Abeyta lived with Martin for about 6 to 8 weeks in the spring of 1989 just after his parole from prison on a robbery charge. But Martin asked Abeyta to move out because of a concern he was stealing from her landlord.

He returned to Martin's home in October, however, with his half-brother, Casey Korsmo, to steal property to finance what he described as a five-day drug binge.

Korsmo, who pleaded guilty in 1994 to 1st-degree murder in exchange for a chance at parole beginning in 2003, said at Abeyta's trial that he heard gunshots shortly after the two men broke into Martin's home.

Martin was killed with two shots to the back of her head from a .25-caliber handgun.

Abeyta could have appealed his case for years but said he was ready to accept his sentence.

"As a Christian, I believe it would be wrong for me to seek a protracted appeal process or to seek further representation, because to do so would be to avoid accountability," he said.

Abeyta said it was his addiction to methamphetamine that led him into the criminal world. His criminal behavior grew progressively worse.

He served time in California for various crimes. In 1979, he was convicted in Nevada of robbery with a deadly weapon and battery with a deadly weapon. He was in prison until his release on parole in March 1989.

He met Martin shortly after and committed the murder only 7 months later.

Abeyta also said he was abused as a child by his father while growing up in the Bay area but said he did not blame either his drug habit or his family for the murder.

"I've got no one to blame," he said. "It's not because of my culture or my family. There are always dysfunctional families.

Everything I ever did was always of my own choosing. Not that I wanted to do what was wrong. You just kind of give up on life when you're on the wrong path and there's nothing to change it."

Abeyta agreed to an interview because he wanted the Martin family to know the regret he felt for the murder.

"I would just basically like the Martin family to know truly how sorry I am," he said. "By my actions, I realize how much anguish and pain I caused them."

Martin's mother, Pearl, testified at Abeyta's trial. "There have been many, many tears, and there will be more," she said.

While Abeyta decided recently to proceed with his execution, he did not always feel that way. The trial took so long from the time of the crime because Abeyta's mental health was being evaluated.

In the interview, Abeyta said he faked mental illness in an effort to avoid taking responsibility for Martin's death.

But Abeyta said he finally decided that he could not reconcile his use of the court system to delay his sentence with his Christian beliefs and decided to accept his punishment instead.

Las Vegas Review-Journal and Rick Halperin



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