EDINBURG, Texas (AP) - A jury sentenced a south Texas man to death on Thursday, four days after convicting him of capital murder for beheading his common law wife's three children in 2003.
It was the second time John Allen Rubio has been sentenced to death for the slayings. He was convicted of killing the children all under the age of four - smothering, stabbing and ultimately decapitating them - in a windowless Brownsville apartment.
Before entering the sentence, Hidalgo County District Judge Noe Gonzalez asked Rubio if there was anything he would like to say.
"I'm sorry it all had to come to this," Rubio said quietly. "I thank the jury for giving me a chance to show what I could."
Gonzalez, who said he had sentenced more people to death than any judge in south Texas, said he recognized that a lot of people went through what Rubio did, citing his abusive and troubled childhood.
"I don't know what happened, but I know what this jury found," Gonzalez said. "I have never seen a crime like this." Jurors deliberated for about four hours.
Jurors on Monday found Rubio guilty on four counts of capital murder - one charge for each child and one for the children together.
Rubio was previously convicted of the murders in 2003 and sentenced to death. But a state appeals court overturned his conviction in 2007 because statements from the children's mother, Angela Camacho, were wrongly allowed as evidence during the trial. Camacho pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence for her role in the slayings.
At his current trial, Rubio pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury rejected that defense.
Rubio attorney Ed Stapleton said the result saddened him.
"I've gotten to know this man over the last three years, so to think of him dying on a gurney is very difficult," Stapleton said. Texas executes by lethal injection.
Rubio did not testify or otherwise express remorse at trial, but Stapleton said he did feel bad. He said Rubio had kept photos of the children in his cell and asked for copies when those pictures were entered into evidence.
"He misses those children more than anyone else alive," Stapleton said.
Prosecutors were relieved at the outcome. They said it had been a difficult few years of dealing with the graphic evidence of a crime involving young children.
"I think there's a special place in hell for Mr. Rubio," said Cameron County prosecutor Charles Mattingly.
Rubio's only emotion during the nearly three-week trial came during closing statements Thursday. He also was visibly upset as he was being led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
At one point during closing statements, Nat Perez, another Rubio attorney, had asked Rubio to stand up and face the jury. Rubio stood, but did not look at the jury with his reddened eyes.
"He's a child of the Valley, too," Perez said, referencing Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos's comment earlier in the trial that Rubio's crime tore at the very fabric of the Rio Grande Valley.
Rubio's defense experts testified that his childhood - filled with violence at home, "toxic" parents, drug use and prostitution - damaged him developmentally and set him on a path for failure.
After being flagged down by Rubio's brother, police found the bodies of 3-year-old Julissa Quesada, 14-month-old John E. Rubio and 2-month-old Mary Jane Rubio on March 11, 2003, in the apartment Rubio shared with Camacho.
At various times since the crime, Rubio claimed the children were possessed and that he was the "chosen one" intended to save the world. Defense experts diagnosed Rubio as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, a determination rejected by prosecution experts.
Prosecutors pointed out that in the midst of the murders, Rubio had sex with Camacho, telling her it would likely be their last chance. They were in the process of cleaning up the crime scene when Rubio's brother and girlfriend stopped by.
The first police officer on the scene testified that after he saw the decapitated body of one child in a back bedroom, Rubio held his wrists out and said, "arrest me."
Texas law requires an automatic appeal process for death sentences.