Fort Worth attorney Greg Westfall labeled Mark Anthony Soliz the “poster child for how stupid the death penalty is.” Former Johnson County Sheriff Bob Alford called Soliz one of the most dangerous men he ever dealt with.
Barring an unlikely reprieve, Soliz will almost certainly draw his last breath sometime between 6 p.m. and midnight on Tuesday. Soliz, 37, who has spent the last seven years on death row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, will be transported to Huntsville about 30 miles away where he will be put to death by lethal injection.
Johnson County jurors in the 413th District Court sentenced Soliz to death on March 23, 2012, for the June 29, 2010, shooting death of Nancy Hatch Weatherly, 61, in her home near Godley. Soliz earlier that same day shot Ruben Martinez, a delivery man, in the parking lot of a Fort Worth convenience store. Rushed to John Peter Smith Hospital, Martinez died 13 days later. Soliz, at the conclusion of his trial, displayed no emotion as Judge Bill Bosworth read the jury’s verdict. Soliz’ accomplice, Jose Clemente Ramos, pleaded guilty to capital murder on Aug. 10, 2012, and received life in prison without parole.
Should his date hold firm, Soliz will become the sixth person executed in Texas this year.
Life on death row
Robert Hurst, communications officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, points left toward three gray buildings.
“That’s death row,” Hurst said. “There’s about 210 men there now. The women, they’re kept at Gatesville.”
The inmates get about six hours per week outside recreation time should they choose to take advantage of it, but always alone. Otherwise they remain in their single cells even during meals.
“No TV,” Hurst said. “Some have a radio but most don’t. They can get newspapers or magazines as long as they’re approved.”
TDCJ did away with the last meal request about a decade ago.
“One guy requested a huge smorgasbord of food then didn’t eat any of it,” Hurst said. “After that they decided to stop doing that. So that one guy screwed it up for everyone else. Now they get a variety to choose from, usually a choice of a meat, chicken or fish dish.”
Two death row inmates are already in the small booths in the visitor’s section. One looks around occasionally but otherwise stares into space. The second ignores his chair choosing instead to poise himself in a crouched position on a small shelf beneath the phone in his booth. He alternates between looking around and reaching up to touch the ceiling.
Both, Hurst explains, are either waiting for their visitors or have already had their visit and are sitting tight until someone comes to take them back to their cells.
Soliz, scheduled to arrive any moment, never shows. Although he agreed several days earlier to an interview he pulls a last minute change of mind. Subsequent requests from jailers fall on deaf ears and he refuses to budge. Unfortunately, Hurst says, such is his choice. The jailers can’t force him to talk if he doesn’t want to.
Hurst and his fellow workers come off surprisingly courteous and upbeat given the nature of their jobs.
Attempts to contact family members of Weatherly and Martinez were also unsuccessful.
The cost of justice
“It was our most expensive and longest trial in the county’s history,” Johnson County District Attorney Dale Hanna said. “The expense of these type trials is just staggering.”
Soliz’ trial cost the county $903,544.13, County Auditor Kirk Kirkpatrick said. Of that total, defense costs ate up $782,517.17 and prosecution expenses $120,891.13.
That amount covers only Soliz’ original trial in the 413th District Court. The state footed the bill for the many appeals that followed pushing the total cost to well above $1 million.
The trial involved costs that can’t be measured in dollars as well.
“It took a year just to prepare for that trial,” Johnson County Assistant District Attorney Martin Strahan said. “I’ve worked on seven capital murder cases since I’ve been here but Soliz was the only death penalty case I’ve had. Fortunately, they’re pretty rare. It takes a lot out of you working a case like that, but in those situations you want to make sure you’re 100 percent right. We thought, based on his record, he was a very dangerous person who would hurt other people if there was ever any chance he might be let loose, which is why we decided to go with the death penalty option.”
Former Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Christy Jack assisted the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office in the case against Soliz. This because the chain of events constituting Soliz’ crimes stretched from Tarrant to Johnson County.
Jack said she’s worked several capital murder cases both as prosecuting and defense attorney.
“Every one you try changes and takes a little bit out of you,” Jack said. “Because you’re asking a jury to impose the ultimate punishment for the ultimate crime. It’s nothing to celebrate because it’s a terrible tragedy for everyone involved that’s brought us to this point.”
“The big picture is it does not give me one inkling of delight in seeing this,” Hanna said. “It pains me and it is a heavy burden to carry to know that you’ve prosecuted somebody for a crime that’s going to end up taking his life.”
In the end, however, Hanna said Soliz has no one to blame but himself.
“He shot Martinez in Fort Worth and ended up killing him,” Hanna said. “He burglarized Weatherly’s house and killed her for no reason and it was a merciless killing. We could’ve tried this in Tarrant or Johnson, but the juries in Johnson County are probably more conservative. The evidence was overwhelming and the right results happened in my opinion.”
It could’ve been worse, prosecutors said. Soliz shot and/or shot at several others in the days leading to the shootings of Martinez and Weatherly.
Soliz, 28 in 2010, spent most of his adult life in jail for theft, evading arrest and other charges, according to TDCJ records. He had just been released from a three-year stint in jail for stealing a car when he hooked up with Ramos, a friend of Soliz’ sister.
The couple burglarized a west side Fort Worth home and stole several guns. Soliz sold most of the guns but kept on telling friends he had plans for it.
Jack said it “destroyed” the homeowner when he later learned that his gun was used in Soliz’ crimes. That man’s wife, who was pregnant at the time, arrived home minutes after Soliz and Ramos had departed.
Prosecutors laid out 13 offenses some committed by Soliz alone, others in tandem with Ramos over the week of their spree.
Two days after stealing the guns Soliz and another man, possibly Ramos, approached a man in the Ridgmar Mall parking lot and attempted to rob him. Later that same day Soliz involved himself in an argument between a man named Luis Luna and another man. Soliz asked the other man if he wanted to get Luna wet, meaning blood, then proceeded to shoot Luna in the ear. Later that day Soliz, and possibly Ramos, car-jacked a man’s pickup. Still later that day Soliz approached a man in a convenience store parking lot and stole his wallet and car at gunpoint.
Several days later Soliz and Ramos approached two men and women in the parking lot of a bar, pistol whipping one man and stealing his wallet. On June 29, 2010, Soliz and Ramos shot multiple bullets at and into a Fort Worth house apparently in retaliation against a rival gang member. Later that same morning they robbed a Fort Worth man as he walked to his car, shooting him multiple times in the chest and stomach. Still later that same morning Soliz approached a Lowe’s Home Improvement employee in the store’s parking lot, displayed a gun and demanded money. Soliz fired multiple shots at the man as he fled the scene.
That same morning Soliz and Ramos accosted and robbed Martinez who was making a delivery to a convenience store on Azle Avenue in Fort Worth. A struggle ensued and Soliz shot Martinez.
“The shot pulverized Martinez’ spine,” Jack said. “He couldn’t move or talk. He could only communicate by blinking his eyes. His wife said she felt helpless to ease his suffering.”
Soliz and Ramos departed Fort Worth at that point traveling in one of the vehicles they had stolen. While passing through Benbrook they stopped long enough to burglarize two houses then eventually entered Johnson County. Why they chose Johnson County remains unknown. The only link either had, prosecutors and law enforcement officials said, is that either Soliz or Ramos spent a brief period of time in a foster home in the county when they were younger.
They chose for whatever reason to rob Weatherly’s home. Attorneys involved in the case said Weatherly had poor eyesight and may have confused Soliz and Ramos for two men who did work on her property when she opened her door.
Soliz, in a statement to police, said he laid the gun on the table in the Weatherly’s dining room, walked outside leaving Ramos inside and heard a shot. Subsequently Soliz, on that same statement wrote in hand, “It was me that shot that woman.”
Apparently, Soliz left Ramos to guard Weatherly while he continued to ransack her house, attorneys said. Ramos tried to calm Weatherly telling her they were only there to rob here home when Soliz walked back into the room. Attorney’s said Weatherly asked Soliz not to take an item that belonged to her mother at which point Soliz said, “Then go be with her” before shooting her in the back of the head. A woman who testified during the trial said Soliz recounted the incident to her later that same or the next day and made fun of Weatherly’s accent while doing so.
An attorney connected to the cases said Ramos told him that as they were leaving in Weatherly’s stolen truck horses on her property blocked their path, something Ramos took as a sign the horses knew something was wrong and/or a sign from God.
Fort Worth police were at various times searching for Soliz and Ramos in connection with the burglary of guns from the Fort Worth home, the vehicles they stole, the shooting and robbery incidents and ultimately the shooting of Martinez.
Ramos, when asked about a stolen truck began talking about Weatherly. The FWPD detective, who was asking about a truck they stole in Fort Worth, had no idea what he was talking about but didn’t let on or question him. But for that detective’s sharp thinking, Hanna and Jack said, Weatherly’s murder may have remained unsolved.
“I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone with so little regard for life,” Jack said. “ The difference from other capital murder cases I’ve tried is that they were one person responsible for a murder. Ramos and Soliz had the unique distinction of being a two-man crime spree over several days and two counties. Either incident would’ve qualified them for capital murder.”
Fort Worth Detective Danny Paine called Soliz the most dangerous person he had ever come in contact with during his law enforcement career.”
Soliz’ attorneys pointed toward his troubled childhood including a mother involved in prostitution and drugs and witnessing his aunt dying after being stabbed. Soliz, they argued suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, an argument Soliz’ appellate attorneys put forth to no avail during his appeals.
Hanna dismisses the fetal alcohol syndrome argument. Johnson County Appellate Attorney David Vernon said he doesn’t expect any remaining appeals to go Soliz’ way.
Westfall called the case a tragedy all around.
“That case was overwhelmingly sad for everyone involved,” Westfall said. “The effects of neglect and trauma on a developing brain are becoming better known. Basically Soliz had a monstrous childhood and should not be executed. The death penalty is stupid. It fulfills none of the promise of closure and is incredibly expensive.”
Alford said he welcomed the day Soliz left the Johnson County Jail.
“He was unruly, a problem and a threat the whole time he was there,” Alford said. “We had to take a lot of precautions because he was a confirmed member of the Tango Blast gang.”
JCSO Detective Kevin Link guarded Soliz while he was in court.
“In my 20 plus years of law enforcement I thought I’d seen it all,” Link said. “Not a lot of officers get to spend that much time in a trial but there were unique circumstances because of his gang affiliation and the possibility of some kind of retaliation.”
Videos played during Soliz’ trial showed him acting out in jail and in the courthouse holding room. Despite being heavily guarded, Soliz, probably with a paper clip, managed to scratch Kilo, his gang name, into the leg of the defense table. It’s still there. Soliz somehow also saw and memorized the address of a potential female juror. He later wrote a romantic letter to her. Jail staff intercepted the letter and the woman never received it. Prosecuting and defense attorneys both say they’re unsure how Soliz obtained the woman’s address.
Former Johnson County Assistant Attorney Larry Chambless during opening arguments of Soliz’ trial, noted that Weatherly was wearing pajamas and a white T-shirt reading “Granny” when she opened her door and Soliz and Ramos forced their way into her life. Martinez’ wife was eight months pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time of his death.