The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday approved the executions of two more death-row inmates, one for the brutal rape and murder of a Phoenix woman and the other for killing a Tucson college student after robbing him.
Samuel Villegas Lopez, 49, is scheduled to be executed on May 16. Thomas Arnold Kemp, 63, is set for execution on April 26. If both executions are carried out, and if the state can carry out three other executions on its radar screen, Arizona would be on pace to match its busiest year for executions in state history.
The most inmates Arizona has executed in a given year since establishing the death penalty in 1910 was seven inmates in 1999.
Arizona has executed two inmates so far this year — Robert Henry Moormann on Feb. 29 and Robert Charles Towery on March 8. It could schedule three more on top of Lopez’s and Kemp’s executions, putting the state on pace to execute seven men this year.
The state executed four inmates last year.
Lopez was convicted for raping, robbing and stabbing 59-year-old Estafana Holmes to death in her Phoenix apartment on Oct. 29, 1986, after what court records described as a “terrible and prolonged struggle.”
Police later found a half-naked Holmes with three major stab wounds to her head, one on her face, and 23 in her left breast and upper chest. The 5-foot-2-inch, 125-pound woman had been blindfolded and gagged with her own clothing, and her throat had been slit.
Semen found on her body matched Lopez’s after he was arrested in a separate rape less than a week later.
Holmes’ apartment was in complete disarray, and blood was splattered on walls in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. In a 1993 ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court upholding Lopez’s death sentence, the justices wrote that the state of the apartment and Holmes’ body showed “a terrific struggle for life” and called the killing a “grisly and ultimately fatal nightmare.”
“Obviously, the victim endured great physical and mental suffering over a relatively protracted period of time while she struggled for her life,” they wrote.
Lopez argued to the court that he didn’t deserve the death penalty because he said he didn’t torture Holmes, that none of the wounds he gave her were inflicted solely to cause pain, and that he “simply continued to stab the victim until she died.”
In a later unsuccessful appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Lopez argued that he deserved a sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty. He said that he had ineffective attorneys who failed to present during trial a psychiatric expert who had hypothesized that Lopez was suffering from “pathological intoxication” at the time of the killing.
Pathological intoxication is considered a rare condition in which a person exhibits sudden and unpredictable behavior shortly after drinking a very small amount of alcohol.
Kemp, the other inmate approved for execution, was sentenced to death for kidnapping 25-year-old Hector Soto Juarez from outside his Tucson apartment on July 11, 1992, and robbing him before taking him into a desert area, forcing him to undress and shooting him twice in the head.
Juarez had just left his apartment to get food when Kemp and Jeffery Logan spotted him. They held him at gunpoint and used his debit card to withdraw $200 before driving him to the Silverbell Mine area near Marana, where Kemp killed Juarez.
The two men then went to Flagstaff, where they kidnapped a married couple traveling from California to Kansas and made them drive to Durango, Colo., where Kemp raped the man in a hotel room. Later, Kemp and Logan forced the couple to drive to Denver, where they escaped. Logan soon after separated from Kemp and called police about Juarez’s murder.
Logan led police to Juarez’s body, and Kemp was arrested.
Kemp has argued that his conviction was unfair because then-prosecutor Kenneth Peasley repeatedly told jurors that Kemp’s homosexuality was behind Juarez’s kidnapping and murder, and that the jury hadn’t been properly vetted for their feelings about gay men.
Kemp addressed the court during his sentencing trial when he was supposed to explain why he didn’t deserve the death penalty. Instead, Kemp said Juarez was in the country illegally and was “beneath my contempt,” and expressed contempt for Juarez, Logan, Peasley and reporters who had written about his case.
“I don’t show any mercy, and I am certainly not here to plead for mercy,” he said. “I spit on the law and all those who serve it.”