Texas is set to carry out the second execution of 2012 on Thursday, with the lethal injection of Rodrigo Hernandez. He was convicted of the 1994 abduction, rape and strangling of 38-year-old Susan Verstegen. Hernandez was denied clemency by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles yesterday. He maintains his innocence.
“It still doesn’t feel real. I did not commit this murder; I’ll take that to the grave,” Hernandez said in a recent death row interview. “My grandma raised me to respect women.”
Almost by chance, Hernandez was linked to Verstegen’s death in 2002, eight years after her half-naked body was found stuffed in a 55-gallon drum at a church.
As a condition of his parole for an assault in Grand Rapids, Hernandez had to submit a DNA sample for a local, state and national database called CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. When a match was found, George Saidler, then a San Antonio Police Department cold case detective who had reopened the probe in 2000, visited Hernandez in a Michigan jail.
After about 20 minutes, Saidler recalled, Hernandez asked a Michigan officer to leave the room, then confessed to killing Verstegen, a single mother interested in photography who worked for Frito-Lay.
Today, Hernandez, the father of three daughters, claims he had sex with Susan Verstegen that night but didn’t kill her.
“It’s sad that the detective did this to me. I did not commit this murder, someone else did, and I don’t know how they can live with their life,” he said.