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TEXAS EXECUTION

Man executed for killing 3 members of Texas family

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - A man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, her young son and her mother 13 years ago at a Corpus Christi home has been executed by Texas prison authorities.

Jose Villegas was lethally injected Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments he was mentally impaired and ineligible for the death penalty.

The 39-year-old was pronounced dead at 7:04 p.m. CDT, 11 minutes after being given a lethal dose of pentobarbital.

He was put to death for fatally stabbing Erida Salazar, her 3-year-old son Jacob and her 51-year-old mother Alma Perez in January 2001.

He became the seventh Texas inmate executed this year, and the third put to death with a new stock of pentobarbital from a provider corrections officials won't identify.

Texas is the nation's most active death penalty state.

PLANT EXPLOSION-TEXAS

Texas town recovering year after deadly blast

WEST, Texas (AP) - Residents of the small Texas town of West are honoring the past but looking ahead on the one-year anniversary of a fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people.

A fire at the West Fertilizer Company triggered a blast so powerful that it leveled nearby homes and schools. Among those killed were 12 volunteer firefighters and other responders trying to help protect families and elderly residents living nearby.

There are signs of recovery, including dozens of new homes. But residents know they have a long way to go.

Thursday's ceremony will include a moment of silence at 7:51 p.m., the time of the 2013 explosion.

John Crowder, senior pastor at West's First Baptist Church, says organizers want to honor the past but make clear that "greater things are yet to come."

PLANT EXPLOSION-STATE FUNDING

State awards $4.8M to West recovery efforts

WEST, Texas (AP) - State officials say an additional $4.8 million in disaster assistance will be provided to the Central Texas community of West as it continues to rebuild from the devastating fertilizer plant explosion last year that killed 15.

The office of Gov. Rick Perry announced Wednesday that the funding comes at the request last week by West officials for additional state money.

It will be used for work on water treatment and storage facilities, infrastructure repairs and other needs.

The state now has given West about $8 million in total recovery aid. The Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier this year gave $20 million to help rebuild two schools destroyed in the April 17, 2013, blast.

The explosion that was so intense it registered as a small earthquake and left a 93-foot crater.

HEALTH OVERHAUL-HOUSTON

Houston health care enrollment exceeds forecast

HOUSTON (AP) - More than 177,000 Houston residents have signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace, far exceeding expectations for the city.

According to an email obtained by The Associated Press, as of April 5 177,825 Houston residents enrolled for insurance under President Barack Obama's signature law. The email was written by Marjorie McColl Petty, the regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Dallas.

The expectation had been that 138,000 Houston residents would sign up. Petty told Houston officials the numbers reflect a successful 13-county regional effort.

These are the first enrollment figures for Texas, where one in four are uninsured, the highest rate in the nation. The state is considered crucial to the Affordable Care Act's overall success, but enrollment had lagged in February.

SUSPECTED HUMAN SMUGGLING-HOUSTON

5 plead guilty in Texas human smuggling operation

HOUSTON (AP) - Five men from Mexico have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and firearms charges stemming from a human smuggling operation that held 115 people captive in a small Houston house.

Officials say the captives were held against their will until a ransom was paid to allow their illegal entry into the United States.

All five pleaded guilty to two-count criminal informations accusing the five of conspiracy to harbor and transport immigrants illegally and use of a firearm in a crime of violence. Each face up to 10 years in prison on the conspiracy count and five years on the weapons count at their sentencing scheduled for July 30. All will remain in custody until then.

The five were arrested March 19 when investigators discovered their stash house that day in southern Houston.

CRUZ-BORDER VISIT

Cruz makes just 2nd border visit as US senator

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) - U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is making just his second visit to the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border since taking office nearly 16 months ago.

The tea party favorite is addressing the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce Thursday before heading to Laredo for a roundtable with Mayor Raul Salinas.

Cruz last visited the border in September for three events in McAllen and Mission.

He's frequently mentioned as a possible 2016 White House hopeful. But Cruz had been criticized in Democratic circles for visiting Iowa, which kicks off presidential voting, four times while only coming to the Texas-Mexico border once.

Last year, a Cruz proposal to triple the number of border patrol agents and quadruple the equipment used along the U.S.-Mexico border, including drones and helicopters, didn't make it to a Senate floor vote.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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