HUNTSVILLE (AP) – The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the execution of convicted murderer Cleve Foster for the third time this year.
Foster, a former Army recruiter, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday evening in Huntsville.
Foster, 47, was spared by the high court in January and again in April shortly before he was to receive lethal injection.
In January, just before the start of a six-hour window when Foster could be strapped to the death chamber gurney for injection, he won a reprieve so the justices could further review an appeal in his case. Then in April, the high court again halted his execution when lawyers sought a rehearing on arguments he was innocent and had poor legal help at his trial and in early stages of his appeal.
His lawyers returned to the court with similar arguments he was innocent and had previous deficient legal help, specifically asking the court to decide whether prisoners like Foster had a constitutional guarantee for a competent lawyer when he first raised claims in a state appeals court. State lawyers said the issues had been resolved by the courts, that the Supreme Court has ruled there’s no constitutional right to a competent state-provided lawyer for appeals, and the last-day appeal was just another attempt to delay Foster’s punishment.
Foster would have been be the 11th Texas prisoner executed this year and the first of two to die this week. On Wednesday, Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44, was set to die for participating in the notorious dragging death case in Jasper in East Texas. Brewer was one of two white men condemned for the death of a black man, James Byrd Jr., more than 13 years ago, in a hate crime that shocked the nation for its brutality.
Foster was one of two men convicted and sent to death row for fatally shooting 30-year-old Nyaneur Pal, whose body was found in a ditch by pipeline workers on Valentine’s Day 2002.
“I didn’t do this,” he said recently from outside his cell on death row. “I’ll fight it to the end.”
Foster’s execution would be the 11th this year in Texas, the nation’s most active death penalty state.
Foster and a companion, Sheldon Ward, were convicted of fatally shooting Pal, who came to the U.S. from Sudan and was known as Mary. Pal, who worked at a country club, was seen talking with Foster and Ward at a Fort Worth bar. Evidence showed she had been shot once in the head and raped.
A gun identified as the murder weapon was found in a motel room where Foster and Ward were living. Authorities determined the same gun was used two months earlier to kill another woman, 22-year-old Rachel Urnosky, at her Fort Worth apartment. She also had been raped.
Foster and Ward were implicated but never tried in her slaying.
Foster blamed Pal’s death on Ward, who was one of his Army recruits. Prosecutors said evidence showed Foster actively participated in the woman’s killing, offered no credible explanations, lied and gave contradictory stories about his sexual activities with Pal.
Her blood and tissue were found on the weapon and DNA evidence showed both men had sex with her. Ward said the sex was consensual. Foster said he was passed out from sleeping pills at the time Pal would have been murdered.
Ward died of cancer last year while on death row.
Foster also denied any involvement in Urnosky’s slaying in December 2001. He told detectives he and Ward were at her apartment but they left when she refused to have sex with them. The Texas Tech honors graduate was found dead in her bed after she failed to show up for work.
Rex Barnett, one of Foster’s trial lawyers, said he didn’t believe the evidence to convict Foster was legally sufficient.
“We did get Ward’s statement in, that he took all the blame for it,” Barnett said.
A Tarrant County jury, however, didn’t buy it and convicted Foster.
In appeals, attorneys referred to Ward’s several statements claiming sole responsibility for Pal’s murder.
“The most striking feature of Ward’s `confessions’ is that they are incompatible with each other,” state lawyers said in their responses to the appeals courts.
Foster grew up in Henderson, Ky., and spent nearly two decades in the Army, reaching the rank of sergeant first class. He was deployed to the Middle East during Desert Storm and was assigned to Fort Worth as a recruiter. Records 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 of the service only a short time when the slayings occurred.
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