This is the eleventh article in the Last Meals series. Please see the tenth article in the series here, or start the Last Meals series at the beginning here.
The execution of Juan Soria happened after a particularly brutal killing of a innocent teen, Allen Bolden, who was killed for owning a car that Juan Soria wanted.
The murder is gruesome, and Juan Soria was definitely deeply troubled. His last meal suggests a variety of memories, relived once more before his final day. This story is one that suggests a complex persona, guilty of a killing, but untroubled for a reason still mysterious.
From the Texas Execution Information Center we learn the sad story of the crime itself:
“In June 1985, Soria, then 18, and Mike Lagunas, 19, asked Allen E. Bolden to give them a ride home from the Fort Worth Boys Club, where Bolden was working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor. Bolden, who knew Soria from the club, gave the pair a ride in his father’s car.” ∗
Like other stories in the Last Meals series, the start of this terrible crime is simple and innocent. There was no conflict that led to the killing of Allen Bolden. He was known to Juan Soria, and was trying to help him by offering him a ride. Not exactly the type of behavior that leads to murder.
“Once inside the car, Lagunas pulled a gun on Bolden and forced him to drive to a secluded area. There, Lagunas knocked him out by striking him with a rock, and Soria stabbed him to death. Soria later told police that he “bent down and stabbed the guy twice in the soft spot at the back of the head.”∗
Just how this friendly ride home turned into a scenario for murder is unknown. The gun Soria pulled was not used in the murder. Why he would use a rock and a knife when the gun was present is a curious mystery. Also, why stab Bolden is such a strange and sadistic manner? Soria had no prior history of violence. The placement of the killing wound at the back of the head seems to suggest prior awareness of the softness of the spot and its vulnerability to a knife.
After killing Bolden, the two went back to the Boys Club and bragged to friends about the murder. They picked up two friends, robbed an ice cream truck for gas money, and headed for Del Rio, a town near the Mexican border where Soria had once lived. They planned to sell Bolden’s Oldsmobile Toronado there for $5,000.∗
The events after the murder make even less logical sense. Bragging about killing someone to friends may make sense if you are a troubled teenager. Soria had a prior arrest for vandalism, but nothing even approaching the evil murder he bragged about doing just moments before. It seems likely that something dramatic had occurred to create this strange new behavior pattern.
What led him to lash out in this manner may have continued to influence his decision to brag to others about his violence and to proceed to rob an ice cream truck for gas money. The choice of an ice cream truck is also symbolic of a youthful mind.
The symbol of the ice cream truck is attractive to children, and may have been a random act of opportunity. It may suggest that Soria is acting to impress other children, like the friend who was with Juan Soria when he killed Allen Bolden.
Two days later, Soria, Lagunas, and a 14-year-old juvenile companion were driving the stolen car in the Del Rio area and were pulled over for speeding. Police discovered the car was reported stolen and arrested them.∗
Soria was arrested with an even younger friend, still driving the stolen car. The original plan to sell the car for $5,000 never transpired. Keeping the car and driving young friends around town seems to continue the pattern of acting to impress others with his behavior.
Soria confessed to the killing and the pair told authorities where they could find Bolden’s body back in Fort Worth.
Soria was convicted of capital murder and received the death penalty. In 1994, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals removed Soria’s death sentence, because it found that the jury had insufficient evidence to determine that he was a continuing threat to society.∗
Soria may have been having a mental break with reality, living out an adolescent fantasy. His mental condition may account for why his behavior was so unlike anything he had ever done before. The absence of evidence that he was a threat to others seems to imply that he did not continue to display a nature prone to sadistic violence and acts of braggadocio.
Prosecutors appealed the ruling, and the court reinstated Soria’s death sentence two years later.
In prison, Soria had a history of self-mutilation and suicide attempts. In June, he pulled a volunteer prison chaplain’s arm into his cell and repeatedly slashed it with a razor blade.
The minister, 78-year-old William Paul Westbrook, was severely injured. Soria was placed in the psychiatric unit after that incident. He reportedly attempted to kill himself again the weekend before his execution.∗
In prison Juan Soria showed that his environment was destabilizing. His attacks on the prison chaplain reveal that he continued to have the ability within him for extreme violence, especially with a knife.
Soria’s self mutilation also shows how he was losing his hold on sanity. Cutting is often a sign of intense internal disturbance, where the cutting is a used as a release. Soria was facing his own immanent execution. He started to cut himself , most likely in response to the pressures of being in prison. He had no prior history of this behavior before going to jail.
At his execution, Soria had long hair and a wild beard, as he had not been given access to a razor since his attack on the chaplain. A towel covered numerous self-inflicted cuts on his arms. In his last statement, he spoke slowly, in a barely audible voice, mentioning Allah and divine love numerous times.∗
Not having expressed a religious devotion to Islam before this, it is curious that Soria would speak of Allah at his execution. It is not uncommon for prisoners to speak about god before their deaths; it is in many ways natural to consider the divine before the end of life. But Soria was not outwardly religious; indeed having vandalized a church and attacking a prison chaplain.
He concluded by saying, “They say I am going to have surgery, so I guess I will see everyone after this surgery is performed. It is finished.”
This is when it seems that Soria is not mentally aware of what is about to happen. Certainly he must have know, if he was mentally competent, that he was not about to have surgery. To someone under intense mental stress, with a possible history of mental illness, an execution chamber might appear to be a type of surgical operating room.
Texas enacted a law especially to prohibit the execution of any person who is incompetent. See Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 46.04.
In layman’s terms, this law establishes that a death row inmate is considered incompetent if he or she does not understand (1) that he or she is to be executed and that the execution is imminent; and (2) the reason he or she is being executed.†
Juan Soria’s final statements and prison behavior imply that he did not comprehend the reality he was living in. His murder of Allen Bolden, being so out of the norm for him, also suggests that Juan may have been mentally ill, manifesting a deep internal disturbance. His execution may fit the definition of someone who should not have been executed under Texas law.
“He was pronounced dead at 6:27 p.m”∗
His final meal is a smorgasbord of food. Soria is tasting all his favorites for the last time. The diversity of his menu shows a love of simple sweets, salty snacks, and fast food. Even though he was thirty three when he died, it is almost as if he never aged beyond the eighteen year old who killed Allen Bolden.
“Executed July 26, 2000. “Chicken, three pieces of fish, burgers, pizza, fruit (grapes, plums, peaches, apples, tangerines), doughnuts, walnuts, chocolate candy bar, plain potato chips, picante sauce, hot sauce, salad with ranch dressing, Coke, and Sprite.”∗
Perhaps Juan Soria died that sad day as well, replaced by a mental disease that took over his mind and lived within him every day thereafter.
Other sources included: Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, Huntsville Item.
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