Jan 11, 9:52 PM EST

Texas carries out first US execution of 2017



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HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- Texas on Wednesday put to death an inmate convicted of killing two men over a phony drug deal, the first U.S. execution of 2017.

Christopher Wilkins, 48, was declared dead at 6:29 p.m., 13 minutes after a lethal injection of pentobarbital.

Before the drug was administered, he twice mouthed "I'm sorry," to two relatives of one of the murder victims as they watched through a window. He gave no final statement.

Wilkins had explained to jurors at his capital murder trial in 2008 how and why he killed his friends in Fort Worth three years earlier, saying he didn't care if they sentenced him to death.

Wilkins shot Willie Freeman, 40 and Mike Silva, 33, after Freeman and an unidentified drug supplier duped Wilkins into paying $20 for a piece of gravel he thought was crack cocaine, according to court records.

Freeman was killed on Oct. 28, 2005, after he laughed about the scam and Silva was shot because he was there, Wilkins said. Wilkins' fingerprints were found in Silva's wrecked SUV and a pentagram matching one of Wilkins' numerous tattoos had been carved into the hood.

Wilkins also testified that the day before the shootings, he shot and killed another man, Gilbert Vallejo, 47, outside a Fort Worth bar in a dispute over a pay phone, and about a week later used a stolen car to try to run down two people because he believed one of them had taken his sunglasses.

"I know they are bad decisions," Wilkins told jurors of his actions. "I make them anyway."

Wes Ball, one of Wilkins' trial lawyers, described him as "candid to a degree you don't see," and had hoped his appearance on the witness stand would have made jurors like him.

"It didn't work," Ball said.

While awaiting trial, authorities discovered he had swallowed a handcuff key and fashioned a knife to be used in an escape attempt.

"This guy is the classic outlaw in the model of Billy the Kid, an Old West-style outlaw," said Kevin Rousseau, the Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wilkins.

Twenty convicted killers were executed in the U.S. last year, the lowest number since the early 1980s. That tally includes seven executions in Texas - the fewest in the state since 1996. Wilkins is among nine Texas inmates already scheduled to die in the early months of 2017.

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This story has been corrected to show the total number of executions in US in 2016 was 20, not 30. Corrects that Freeman and his unidentified drug supplier duped Wilkins, not Freeman and Silva.

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