John Allen Rubio initiates appeals process

June 8, 2018 GMT

A Brownsville man convicted and sentenced to death for decapitating his three young children has initiated the federal appeals process.

On Wednesday afternoon, attorneys who want to represent John Allen Rubio, 37, filed a motion for expedited appointment of counsel, which triggers his right for federal habeas corpus proceedings.

“This right is triggered by the petitioner’s motion requesting counsel,” the court document states.

Rubio, who was initially convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 2003, was retried in 2010 after an appeals court reversed that conviction and sentence. He was again convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. On May 23, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Rubio’s appeal.


On March 11, 2003, Rubio stabbed and decapitated 3-year-old Julissa Quesada, 14-month-old John E. Rubio and 2-month-old Mary Jane Rubio in the run-down apartment he shared with his common-law wife Angela Camacho, 38, on the corner of 8th and Tyler streets, just down the street from the federal courthouse in Brownsville.

Camacho is serving a life sentence for her role in the brutal slayings.

Rubio was the biological father of Mary Jane Rubio but acted as father to all three children in the home.

Jason Hawkins, a federal public defender in the Northern District of Texas who heads up the Capital Habeas Unit, which specializes in death penalty appeals, filed the petition on Rubio’s behalf asking for the appointment.

In the motion, Hawkins asks the court to also appoint Lee B. Kovarsky, principal at the Phillips Black Project, a nonprofit specializing in death penalty appeals, who also has a legal practice that exclusively handles death penalty cases, as co-counsel.

Hawkins did not respond to an email and voicemail seeking comment by deadline.

According to the motion, Rubio needs attorneys as soon as possibly because there may be an issue regarding the statute of limitations and how long he has to actually file a writ of habeas corpus. Hawkins said in the motion that he is exploring whether the state failed to rule on funding motions filed by Rubio’s previous attorney, Donald Schulman, which hampered Schulman’s ability to investigate and prepare Rubio’s appeal on the state level.

Hawkins said in the motion that it may be the case that Rubio has 85 days to file his writ of habeas corpus as opposed to one year.


“Federal counsel need adequate time to investigate, research, and prepare proper capital habeas corpus petitions. Prior to even beginning work on the petition itself, federal counsel must collect and read the record, establish a relationship with the client, and make preliminary evaluations regarding such matters as client competency, mental retardation, and mental health issues, as well as comply with ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty cases,” the motion states.

Hawkins, who heads up the Capital Habeas Unit, a unit that currently represents 14 death-sentenced inmates in Texas, said in the motion that it is necessary for Kovarsky to act as co-counsel to ensure effective assistance for Rubio.

Kovarsky has a long history representing people sentenced to death. Most recently, Kovarsky argued the case of Carlos Manuel Ayestas, who the State of Texas sentenced to death in 1997 for the 1995 murder of Santiaga Paneque, 67, who was brutally murdered during a robbery.

In that case, in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, Kovarsky successfully argued this March that Ayestas did not receive reasonably necessary funding for his habeas petition where he argued that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel, SCOTUS Blog reported.

The Supreme Court reversed the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Ayestas was required to prove the likelihood of success on the merits in

his habeas case before

receiving funding, SCOTUS Blog reported.

In Rubio’s motion, Hawkins said that if the court is unwilling to appoint both attorneys, both will have to decline because of other commitments.

The motion has landed in U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera’s courtroom and as of noon Thursday, Olvera had not ruled on the motion.