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Texas inmate narrowly avoided execution 3 times, tries for fourth

September 24, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Convicted killer Cleve Foster speaks from a visiting cage at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit outside Livingston, Texas.
Convicted killer Cleve Foster speaks from a visiting cage at the Texas Department… (Michael Graczyk / Associated…)

HOUSTON -- A Texas inmate whose appeals have three times spared him the death penalty is again scheduled for execution Tuesday.

Cleve Foster, 48, was sentenced to die for his part in the abduction and killing of a 30-year-old Sudanese woman near Fort Worth in 2002.

He would be the ninth Texas inmate executed this year, the 486th since the state began giving lethal injections in 1982. His death would follow that of Texas inmate Robert Wayne Harris, 40, of Dallas; Harris was executed Thursday after his last-minute appeals were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Foster and his roommate Sheldon Ward were sentenced to death for the murder of Nyaneur “Mary” Pal, whose body was found in a ditch on Valentine's Day 2002; she had been shot in the head. Pal, who worked at a local country club, had been seen talking to the men at a Fort Worth bar before she was killed.

Foster, a former Army recruiter, has denied participating in the slaying, but prosecutors successfully argued that he lied when initially questioned about Pal's death and that DNA tied him to the killing.

Foster and Ward also were charged, but never tried, in connection with the shooting death of Rachel Urnosky, 22, at her Fort Worth apartment in December 2001. Ward, one of Foster's recruits, died of cancer last year on death row.

Foster still had appeals pending Monday, alleging he had poor legal representation at his 2004 trial and early in the appeals process.

On Foster's first and second execution dates, he'd already been transported to the so-called death house in Huntsville, Texas, when he got news of his reprieve.

The first time, in January 2011, he'd even been served a final meal, receiving a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before his execution. (Controversy over some death row inmates’ outlandish last-meal requests has since led corrections officials to stop the practice of serving whatever inmates wish.) The second time, in April 2011, he received news of the stay just as he was about to have dinner.

"You can't take your eyes off that door," he told the Associated Press, referring to the steel door through which condemned prisoners must pass.

The third time Foster was scheduled to be executed, in September of that year, his reprieve came on the day of his scheduled execution, but he'd not yet been transported to the unit housing the execution chambers.

Foster, known on death row as "Sarge," says he is optimistic as his execution date approaches, according to the Associated Press.

"I don't want to sound vain, but I have confidence in my attorney and confidence in my God," he told the news service. "I can win either way."

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