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Texas inmate prepares for third trip to death house on Tuesday

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POSTED September 23, 2012 8:46 p.m.

LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) — What Cleve Foster remembers most about his recent brushes with death is the steel door, the last one condemned Texas inmates typically walk through before their execution.

"You can't take your eyes off that door," he says.

But twice over the past year and a half, Foster has come within moments of being escorted through the door, only to be told the U.S. Supreme Court had halted his scheduled punishment.

On Tuesday, Foster, 48, is scheduled for yet another trip to the death house for participating in the abduction and slaying of a 30-year-old Sudanese woman, Nyaneur Pal, a decade ago near Fort Worth.

It takes just under an hour to drive west from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit, where the state's male death-row inmates are housed, to the Huntsville Unit, where condemned Texas prisoners have been put to death for nearly a century. The last 485 have been by lethal injection; the first 361, from 1924 through 1964, from the electric chair.

On execution day, the condemned inmate waits, usually for about four hours, in a tiny cell a few steps from the steel door to the death chamber.

Foster, a former Army recruiter known to his death row colleagues as "Sarge," denies his role in the murder. Prosecutors say DNA ties him to the killing and that he gave contradictory stories when questioned about Pal's death.

"I did not do it," he insisted recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.

Appeals again were pending in the courts, focusing on what his lawyers argued was poor legal help both at his 2004 trial in Fort Worth and by attorneys early in the appeals process. Similar appeals resulted in the three previous reprieves the courts subsequently have lifted, but his lawyers argue his case should get another look because the legal landscape has changed in death penalty cases.

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

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