August 4, 2008

Texas execution of Heliberto Chi to end anguish of family, friends

From left, Abdon Hernandez Jr. , Abdon Hernandez Sr. and Maria Hernandez photographed with a picture of the late Armand Paliotta in front of the old K&G Fashion Superstores in south Arlington Thursday July 31, 2008. Mr. Paliotta, the store manager, was killed by a former employee in 2001. The Hernandez family were tailors at the store when Mr. Paloitta was killed.

08:40 AM CDT on Monday, August 4, 2008
By DEBRA DENNIS / The Dallas Morning News

Heliberto Chi was on the run for six weeks in 2001 after shooting his former colleagues at an Arlington clothing store. His life on the run ended when his battered girlfriend turned him in to authorities for fatally shooting Armand Paliotta and wounding another man.

On Thursday, the state of Texas plans to end Mr. Chi's life by sending the 29-year-old to the death chamber in Huntsville.

His execution, first slated for last October, was delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed lethal-injection procedures. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court cleared the way for lethal injections nationwide and the Texas appeals court subsequently allowed Mr. Chi's execution to go forward.

But the wait increased the anguish for those who knew the popular Mr. Paliotta, a manager at the K&G Men's Superstore that was on Little Road.

He loved his family and was eager to show his appreciation to those who worked for him, said family and friends. He prayed when they took trips and marveled over news of their weddings and babies, they said.

"He was a good man. Armand was a beautiful soul, a beautiful, beautiful man," said his wife, Acela Paliotta. "He lives inside of me.

"He loved to help people," Mrs. Paliotta added. "There are many friends who have been affected. My husband never would have hurt anyone. He only wanted to help people."

Heliberto Chi Mrs. Paliotta declined to comment on Mr. Chi or his impending execution, which she is not scheduled to attend.

Mr. Chi, a Honduran immigrant, had worked at the store with Mr. Paliotta. Early on March 24, 2001, Mr. Chi visited the store. He later returned under the ruse that he had left his wallet inside. The store was closed but he was allowed in, probably because employees knew him.

Mr. Paliotta was completing the night deposit when Mr. Chi began arguing with him, prosecutors said. Mr. Chi produced a gun and demanded money. He ordered Mr. Paliotta and two other workers to the back of the store.

Mr. Paliotta was shot in the back as he tried to run. He died on the sidewalk in front of the store.

Police said store employee Adrian Riojas, 20, tried to flee and also was shot in the back. He was treated and released at a hospital. The third employee hid and called the police, but Mr. Chi had fled by the time officers arrived, police said.

The store has moved about five miles east to South Cooper Street. Mr. Paliotta's picture hangs in the store's tailor shop, a tribute to a man fondly remembered by those who knew him.

"He was my friend," said Abdon Hernandez Sr., a K&G tailor. "He made it a fun place to work."

Mr. Paliotta, he said, managed employees as if they were his friends.

"He cared about all of us," said Mr. Hernandez, whose wife, Maria, also worked as a tailor at the store.

Abdon Hernandez Jr., another worker, said Mr. Paliotta would not only have given Mr. Chi the day's receipts, he would have handed over his own money.

"It was senseless," the younger Mr. Hernandez said of the slaying.

Mr. Chi's execution is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, barring last-minute appeals, state officials said.

He has not requested a last meal. A spiritual adviser and five friends and family members are to witness his execution, said Michelle Lyons, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

The Hernandez family, however, said they would not be there.

"We support what the state has decided," said Abdon Hernandez Jr. "But this will always be with us."

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