US inmate condemned for slaying set for execution Wednesday

A U.S. inmate was set to die Wednesday evening for killing a 38-year-old man who, unbeknownst to him, was in the federal Witness Protection Program.

Willie Shannon, 33, was set for execution in Huntsville, Texas, for the slaying of Benjamin Garza more than 14 years ago.

Garza was sleeping in his car in a parking lot while his wife and three children were shopping nearby when Shannon jumped into his 15-year-old Ford station wagon and demanded it.

Garza, who had driven with his family from Lubbock for a vacation to the Astroworld amusement park and the Houston Zoo, struggled with the gunman, who kicked him out of the station wagon, shot him in the head, fired two more times and ran over his hand as he sped away.

Shannon's lawyers were in the U.S. Supreme Court trying to block the punishment, which would be 24th execution this year in Texas, the United States' most active death penalty state.

"It was an accident," Shannon insisted recently from death row outside Livingston. "I'd seen something on TV. I felt: 'Well, it's easy to do this.' I needed a ride. I thought I would doing something smart. I chose a raggedy car, where somebody wouldn't fight me."

What Shannon, then 19, did not know was that Garza had been in the federal Witness Protection Program for a decade, given a new identity after testifying at drug trials in the Rio Grande Valley, reports AP.

One more execution is scheduled for this year in Texas. If carried out on Nov. 16, Charles Nealy's lethal injection would bring the Texas total for 2.006 to 25, up three from last year but about average for the past decade. A record 40 Texas prisoners were executed in 2000.

At least five inmates have execution dates in January.

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