Fort Worth

Jury deliberating fate of convicted child killer is sent home for the night

Convicted murderer Gabriel Armandariz is still waiting in a downtown Fort Worth courtroom for the jury to decide his fate Wednesday.
Convicted murderer Gabriel Armandariz is still waiting in a downtown Fort Worth courtroom for the jury to decide his fate Wednesday. Star-Telegram

The jury was sent home at 10 p.m. Wednesday and asked to return Thursday morning to continue deliberating the sentence of a man convicted of killing his two sons.

Gabriel Armandariz’s lawyers cried Wednesday as they begged the jury to spare him from Death Row.

But the woman asking the jury to have him executed for squeezing the life from his infant and toddler sons said there are some special crimes — some crimes that are so bad, society has no choice but to put the perpetrator to death.

This was one of those crimes, said prosecutor Lisa Tannner.

Armandariz, 32, is accused of tearing a strap from his wife’s cloth grocery store bag and then using it to strangle his 8-month-old son, Luke, and his 2-year-old son, Gatlin, on April 13, 2011. According to testimony, Armandariz used the green grocery store bag strap to hang his youngest son from the closet ceiling, and then sent a picture of the body to the baby’s mother.

Police testified that after he killed his sons, Armandariz hid their tiny bodies in a crawl space underneath the residence that the father shared with his relatives in Graham, a town of about 9,000 residents northwest of Fort Worth.

After a trial process that began with jury selection in January, the three-man, nine-woman jury retired to deliberate the convicted man’s fate at about 4:10 p.m.

In Tanner’s description of the crime that Armandariz committed, Luke and Gatlin were afterthoughts, collateral damage in a plot to destroy their mother, the 26-year-old Lauren Smith.

“They were the tools,” Tanner said.

Tanner told the jury that there is a very simple concept that every parent should internalize.

“You should love your children more than you hate your partner,” Tanner said.

There is no doubt in her mind that Armandariz loved his children, Tanner said. But his need to destroy the woman who in his mind destroyed his family, who cheated on him with another man, took precedence over that love.

“This is the worst of the worst,” Tanner said, describing Armandariz’s crime. “What I used to think was the worst was summarily surpassed by this case. When someone does something like this, how can we allow that person to remain among us?”

But Joetta Keene, who is representing Armandariz along with Terri Moore, asked the jury what good would it do to kill their client, and suggested that the worst punishment would be to force him to live with horror of his crime.

“Does killing Gabriel make you feel better? Does it make the small town where it happened say: ‘Yay, we killed that sorry SOB’? What good is more death?” Keene asked.

Armandariz is not a monster, Keene said, adding that during the past four years she, her client and his relatives had achieved some kind of friendship.

“He’s a defective human being,” Keene said. “If your morality takes you to a place where you want to kill someone with a defective brain, extend mercy to his parents, Joe and Geneva, his sister Alice. As dysfunctional as they are and as dysfunctional as that house was, Joe and Geneva love Gabriel.”

But Tanner argued that if left alive Armandariz would cause trouble in prison and would find a way to continue to torment Smith.

“He destroyed her,” Tanner said. “He killed Lauren Smith just as certainly, just as surely as if he had taken a strap and wrapped it around her neck. She buried her babies on the day she was supposed to go to court to get them back. How could you ever come back from that?”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3