A Long-Delayed Execution

by Jillian Kay Melchior
Twenty years ago, police officer Guy Gaddis was murdered. His killer finally faces death.

Four days before Houston police officer Guy Gaddis was murdered, he found out that his 23-year-old wife, Rose, was pregnant.

“He worked graveyards, and he would come and give me a hug and a kiss and say, you know, ‘I’ll see you in the morning,’ and at night, he would rub my stomach and tell me he loved me and kind of talk to the baby,” Rose (who is now Rose Sanchez Crittenden) tells National Review Online. The couple had earlier endured a miscarriage, and Guy longed to become a father. The night before he died, she tells NRO, “He got me out of bed, and he started dancing with me, sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to me. He was rubbing my stomach and telling me I was going to have a girl. . . . He sang the whole song to me when he was dancing with me in my bedroom, and he said, ‘I’m going to tuck you in.’ He tucked me into bed, and again said, ‘I love you,’ to the baby, and then he walked out the door, ran back inside, and he told me again. . . . Even though he was very affectionate, I didn’t think anything of it. . . . Later on, you know, I was kind of feeling like he knew.”

Guy Gaddis reported for work, and a little after 2 a.m., he responded to a robbery call. Four other officers eventually responded as well, and they eventually apprehended two suspects handcuffed them, and ordered them into the back of Gaddis’s car; he then transported them by himself. As the officer drove, one of the suspects twisted around in the seat, gripping a pistol he had managed to conceal, and fired six rounds from behind his back. The car crashed at high speed into a house, waking the occupants, who rushed outside to find a bloodied wreck. Guy and one of the suspects were slumped unconscious in the car; the assailant had escaped by kicking out the back left window. Guy was taken by helicopter to the hospital, and pronounced dead at 4:31 a.m., with three bullets shot into his head by Edgar Arias Tamayo, an illegal immigrant.

On January 22, 2014 — 20 years after Guy Gaddis was murdered — Tamayo is scheduled to die by lethal injection. But his case has become internationally politicized. Critics claim Tamayo was treated unfairly, an allegation deeply hurtful to the family the officer left behind.

Counterintuitively, Tamayo’s status as an illegal immigrant has worked to his benefit. His defenders claim his rights were violated because he was not advised of his right to contact the Mexican consulate. Consequently, the United Nations’ World Court has demanded that his conviction be reviewed.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently sent a letter to Governor Rick Perry and State Attorney General Greg Abbott, claiming that Tamayo’s execution would undermine the Vienna Convention and could hurt American diplomatic efforts.

“I have no reason to doubt the facts of Mr. Tamayo’s conviction, and as a former prosecutor, I have no sympathy for anyone who would murder a police officer,” Kerry wrote. However, he added, “Our consular visits help ensure U.S. citizens detained overseas have access to food and appropriate medical care, if needed, as well as access to legal representation.”

Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. has claimed that Tamayo’s execution “has become and could continue to be a significant irritant in relations between our two countries.” In an official statement, the Mexican government says that it “deeply regrets” the court’s decision to set an execution date for Tamayo and noted that “the Foreign Ministry has expressed to the appropriate authorities the need for the United States to comply with [its] international obligations.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states have no obligation to yield to the World Court’s decisions, and Texas has announced no plans to delay the execution.

Dubious international considerations aside, the case was pretty clear-cut: Tamayo was caught fleeing down the street with Guy Gaddis’s handcuffs still around his wrists. He admitted to the murder but told investigators it was the police officers’ fault for not searching him thoroughly enough to find the .380 Bersa he had tucked into his waistband. Tamayo was afforded due process, just as if he were an American citizen. So conclusive was the evidence that a jury of his peers convicted him of capital murder after just half an hour of deliberation.

Roe Wilson, the Harris County assistant district attorney, says she can’t comment on why politicians have found it appropriate to weigh in on this case. “The fact remains that Edgar Tamayo committed a horrible offense,” Wilson says. “He shot Officer Gaddis three times in the back of the head. He had no remorse afterward.”

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Tamayo was two years older than the 24-year-old police officer he murdered, but the two men could not have been more different. While Tamayo had spent his adult years repeatedly in trouble with the law, Guy Gaddis, young as he was, had already dedicated his life to serving his family and his country.

Inspired by his father, a firefighter and Korean War veteran, Guy joined the military, serving in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. He moved from the military police to the Houston Police Department, and he considered his work his dream job, Rose says. One of his friends from the military, Chuck Culp, recalls Guy’s excellent sense of humor and his willingness to befriend people. “He always found the good in things,” Culp says.

In contrast, police investigators discovered that before Tamayo committed the murder, he already had a “violent criminal past” in the United States and was “an experienced hardened criminal,” wrote Lieutenant Nelson Zoch, who supervised the investigation into Gaddis’s murder. Tamayo had already served prison time after multiple arrests.  

In 1990, a sheriff’s deputy saw Tamayo and four other men “in a stopped car with the doors open, and two of the men tampering with wires under the steering column,” according to court records. When the deputy patted down Tamayo, he found a three-inch metal dagger. Tamayo was arrested for possessing an illegal weapon. In 1991, Tamayo walked out of a grocery store with a cart full of purloined merchandise; when an employee tried to stop him, he attempted to stab the employee with an eight-inch screwdriver, according to court records. Tamayo threatened to kill the employee twice more, once during his arrest and again when he appeared in court facing felony charges, . In 1992, Tamayo tried to steal a battery from the truck of an employee at a California Montgomery Ward. In 1993, Tamayo was reportedly involved in a brawl at a nightclub. In a separate instance, a witness testified that Tamayo had shot up a mobile home in the trailer park where he lived. No one was injured, but when Tamayo was subsequently evicted, he ran over the trailer park’s fence on the way out, the witness said. Furthermore, a security guard at the apartment complex where Tamayo lived said that about two months before Gaddis’s murder, he had seen Tamayo chasing another man around. He testified that he heard gunshots, then saw Tamayo putting an automatic pistol into the back of his waistband.

It’s unclear why Tamayo was permitted to remain in the United States after committing multiple crimes. That question haunts Rose, who notes that “every crime he committed, from California to Houston, threatened Americans.”

Even after his arrest for Gaddis’s murder, Tamayo continued to behave violently, court records show. In one instance, the records state, Tamayo “became agitated and belligerent . . . and told one of the deputies that he would have ‘killed [his] ass’ if he were in the free world.” About two months later, while visiting with his attorney at the county jail, Tamayo again became angry and threatened to “kick [the] ass” of a deputy, and he “put up his hands [and] got in a fighting position” before making the threat, according to court records.

“It’s really a shame how [those trying to intervene in the case] are trying to make this feel like he has more rights than my husband did,” she says. “They’re more worried about their connections to Mexico than they are about their citizens, about what’s right. . . . There’s no difference whether an American committed this crime or an outsider. It happened here in the United States. It should be dealt with in the United States. He shouldn’t have been here.”

Guy’s death left a void, and Rose describes the tortures of the past two decades as she has waited for Tamayo to face justice. In those first days as a widow, she says, the hardest moments were when she went to the doctor as her pregnancy progressed, with no husband by her side.

She had a baby girl, as Guy had predicted, and named her Stephanie as he had wanted. On a night when her infant was suffering from colic, she tells NRO, she comforted her by showing her Guy’s photo, and she has worked hard to ensure that Stephanie has grown up close to the Gaddis side of the family. Eventually, Rose remarried, but to this day, talking about Guy’s death brings her to tears.

Stephanie Gaddis, 19, tells NRO that she dreams about her father often. “It hurts me, because I don’t even know if he smells good, or if he had my smile, or if he was funny,” she says. “I only get to see stories of who he was, and his pictures.” She has a loving stepfather who raised her as his own, but as her own wedding nears, she says, “I wish he was here. I wish he could have met my fiancé and danced with me at my wedding.”

Stephanie keeps her father’s uniform in her closet, and his portrait — painted by the woman whose house he crashed into on that deadly night — hangs on her wall. She treasures the relics that belonged to him, from his wedding album to his guns. She even got a Mighty Mouse tattoo to match the one her father got with his platoon during his military days.

Stephanie says that the politics surrounding the execution disturbs her, especially because “I feel like this guy, Tamayo, is just laughing at us that it’s gone on this long. It’s going to be 20 years, and all I know is that he’s in prison. I found a picture from when he was in court. He was smiling. That really upset me.”

For Guy Gaddis and his family, restorative justice is a harsh impossibility. But in meticulous accordance with the law, Texas’s courts have decided how best to mete out retributive, and possibly preventive, justice. Those who champion a convicted murder commit a fresh injustice to the slain police officer and his family.

Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.