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Fort Worth Murderer Set For 1st 2011 Execution

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Texas death chamber execution gurney. (credit: AP)

Texas death chamber execution gurney. (credit: AP)

HUNTSVILLE (AP) – Former Army recruiter Cleve Foster was one of two men in Fort Worth tied to the slayings nine years ago of two women, one who had fled Sudan and the other a Texas Tech honors graduate.

Both Foster and his former roommate wound up on death row for the slaying of Nyaneur Pal, 30. He was set for lethal injection Tuesday that would make him the first convicted killer executed this year in Texas.

Foster, 47, always insisted his buddy, Sheldon Ward, acted alone in Pal’s slaying.

“My old roommate — he’s told them,” Foster told The Associated Press. “It wasn’t me.”

Ward died in prison last May of cancer.

“Cleve Foster saying ‘I didn’t do anything,’ that’s bull, … that’s baloney,” said Ben Leonard, a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney who prosecuted him. “The jury had no problem convicting him of murder. That case, I’ve never had any doubts about that case at all.”

A Tarrant County jury in 2004 deliberated less than an hour and a half before convicting him.

Foster’s lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the punishment, arguing his conviction was flawed because trial attorneys failed to get testimony from a blood spatter expert to counter a detective’s testimony that Ward couldn’t have killed and moved Pal’s body by himself.

“The state of Texas is on the verge of executing an innocent man,” attorney Clint Broden told the court.

Similar arguments raised in earlier appeals from Foster failed.

Foster and Ward were convicted separately. The Sudanese woman, known as Mary Pal, worked at a country club and was seen talking with the pair at a Fort Worth bar. Her body was found hours later dumped in a ditch off a Tarrant County road. She’d been shot once in the head.

A gun recovered from the motel room where Foster and Ward lived was identified as the murder weapon. It also was identified as the gun used two months earlier to kill Rachel Urnosky at the 22-year-old woman’s Fort Worth apartment.

Pal’s blood and tissue was found on the weapon and DNA evidence showed both men had sex with Pal. Ward said the sex was consensual. Foster said he was passed out from sleeping pills at the time Pal would have been murdered. Ward said Foster was unconscious when Pal had sex with Foster.

Court appeals upholding Foster’s conviction said he and Ward gave numerous statements that were contradictory and not credible.

A detective testified Pal was not killed where pipeline workers found her body on Valentine’s Day 2002 and that Ward had to have help moving her. Witnesses said he and Foster were together constantly.

“I do not believe in Foster’s trial that the evidence was legally sufficient to support his conviction,” one of his trial lawyers, Rex Barnett, said. “I didn’t do the appeal but the issue was raised and turned down. I just don’t believe it’s enough.”

Foster and Ward were charged but never tried for Urnosky’s slaying in December 2001. Foster told police he and Ward were at her Fort Worth apartment but said they left after she refused to have sex with them. She was found in her bed, fatally shot, after failing to show up for work at a shopping mall. Urnosky had graduated magna cum laude from Texas Tech in 2000 with a merchandising degree, was an officer with the Baptist Student Mission at the school in Lubbock and had spent her spring breaks on mission trips.

Evidence also showed Foster, who grew up in Henderson, Ky., spent nearly two decades in the Army, reached the rank of sergeant first class, was deployed to the Middle East during Desert Storm and eventually was assigned as a recruiter. Ward was among his recruits.

Records, however, showed court martial proceedings were started against him after allegations he gave alcohol to underage students as a recruiter and had sex with an underage potential recruit. He was denied re-enlistment in the Army and had been out only a short time when the Urnosky and Pal slayings occurred.

Foster, known on death row as “Sarge,” blamed his conviction on lawyers he didn’t trust, false testimony from police and prosecutors who misled jurors.

“I did not do what I was convicted of,” he said in a 2006 letter to The Associated Press. He declined an interview request in the weeks leading up to his scheduled punishment.

At least three other condemned inmates have execution dates — two of them set for next month — in Texas, where 17 men were put to death last year in the nation’s most active death penalty state.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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