Families still grieving as car wash killer's execution nears

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on September 17, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 18 at 1:50 PM

LIVINGSTON, Texas — Robert Wayne Harris has a date with death later this week.

Harris, 40, has been on Death Row since he was convicted of killing five former co-workers at the Mi-T-Fine car wash in Irving on March 20, 2000.

“Just one day, it hits you, and you just cry and cry and cry,” Charity McFadden said through tears in an interview at her West Texas home.

Her mother, Rhoda Wheeler, then 46, was shot along with assistant car wash manager Dennis Lee, 48, of Irving; Agustin Villaseñor, 36; his brother, Benjamin Villaseñor, 32; and Roberto Jimenez Jr., 15.

“[Harris] broke up a family,” McFadden said. “She was the glue that held our family together.”

McFadden and others plan to travel to Huntsville to view Thursday's scheduled execution, making Harris the eighth person put to death in Texas this year.

The state’s Board of Pardons and Parole is expected to decide Tuesday whether to grant Harris clemency, a formality given to all Death Row inmates.

His execution will close a painful chapter for his victims’ families, who still freshly remember that day in 2000.

“I’ll still continue to mourn my mother,” said McFadden, “but I’ll never get over the anger of what he did.”

Harris said he walked into the MacArthur Boulevard car wash to beg for his job back. He had been fired and arrested for indecent exposure three days earlier after he was caught masturbating in the bathroom of the business.

His arrival Monday morning, however, troubled co-workers who were preparing to open the car wash. One asked him to leave.

In handwritten confessions presented during his trial, Harris said he got into a scuffle.

“I just lost all sense of being and pulled out my gun and started firing,” Harris wrote. “After I shot them, I just freaked out and sat down, cried, and started shaking.”

Within minutes other employees began arriving to start their day at work. Agustin Villaseñor spotted his dead brother on the floor and ran to his side, Harris said. He then shot Augustin along with other co-workers who appeared.

“I just got scared,” he wrote in his confession, which was presented during his murder trial. “I made a terrible mistake and I’m truly sorry I did this.”

Prosecutors insisted his intentions were more sinister.

Harris arrived at the car wash carrying a Ruger 9 mm weapon, forced Wheeler to open the safe holding $3,000, and then forced his colleagues to lie down before shooting them execution-style.

Once he was arrested, Harris admitted to another murder, months earlier, of Sandy Scott. He led authorities to her decomposing body in a rural field.

He told investigators he shot the 37-year-old mother in November 1999 because he thought she had stolen $200 from him.

“You’ll never get over that,” Scott's mother, Annette Riggs, told News 8. “I wonder what she would have looked like? She would have been 50 years old in September.”

A jury took only 11 minutes to convict Harris back in 2000; he was sentenced to death soon after.

News 8 met briefly with Harris on Death Row last month to discuss the crimes and his impending execution date. He agreed to speak with us, but backed out after arriving in the interview chamber.

“I want to try and get in touch with my attorney... I ain’t going to say nothing," Harris insisted repeatedly, while adding that he deeply wanted to speak “to apologize and tell my side of the story.”

He admitted he was sorry for what happened, and that he had to come to terms with his execution.

“I’m tired of being in here anyway,” he said.

Harris' reluctance to speak only added to the deep frustrations of his victims’ families, who have been haunted by unanswered questions.

“I would have liked for him to have told me,” McFadden said, “did he shoot [my mother] first? Did she have to sit there and fear for her life? That's a fear that I hope she didn't have to have.”

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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