TX: Cleve Foster -Execution of woman's killer still being
Sun Apr 3, 2011 06:36
Execution of woman's killer still being challenged Posted Saturday, Apr. 02, 2011 BY MELODY MCDONALD firstname.lastname@example.org
More than nine years ago, on Valentine's Day, construction workers found the naked body of Nyanuer "Mary" Pal in a creek bed near Lake Worth.
She had been raped and shot in the head.
Two months earlier, almost to the day, Rachel Urnosky, 22, was found dead in her southwest Fort Worth apartment. She had also been shot in the head.
The two women didn't know each other and had little in common -- except that they had crossed paths with Cleve Foster and Sheldon Ward, both of whom ended up on Death Row for collaborating on the murders.
The road to justice has been long and unpredictable for Pal's and Urnosky's loved ones, who have repeatedly been blindsided by developments that have delayed or thwarted the execution of the two men.
In 2010, Ward died in prison from a brain tumor before he could be executed.
And this year, just before the families were about to witness Foster's execution, he received a last-minute reprieve.
Now, Texas has run out of one of the three drugs used in lethal injections and has replaced it with a different drug -- drawing new challenges from Foster and his attorneys, who are trying to stop his execution, set for 6 p.m. Tuesday in Huntsville.
"I just want it to be over," said Urnosky's mother, Pam.
She said she and her husband plan to make the long drive from their home in Lubbock again this week to watch Foster's execution. "This is astounding to me. The irony is that my daughter didn't get such consideration. I have been so upset. Sickened."
The Pal family could not be reached for comment.
In a recent interview from Death Row in Livingston, Foster, 47, a former Army recruiter nicknamed "Sarge," said he doesn't appreciate being a "guinea pig" for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and maintained his innocence, saying Ward acted alone.
"I did not do this crime. The person who did this crime is dead," Foster said. "I spent 21 years of my life in uniform under the red, white and blue. I resent the fact that I'm here, but if this is going to help them in any way, so be it. And I forgive them.
"If they come up here to watch it, I forgive them for watching my death."
Sudan native slain
Nyanuer "Mary" Pal, 28, a native of Sudan, lived with her uncle and aunt in Fort Worth and worked at River Crest Country Club.
In her downtime, she liked to hang out at Fat Albert's, a pool hall in west Fort Worth.
And it was there, on the night of Feb. 13, 2002, that she began chatting with Ward and Foster, who were also regulars. When the bar closed at 2 a.m., witnesses reported seeing Pal drive off in her vehicle, followed closely by the two men in Foster's truck.
The next morning, workers laying a waterline in the 9800 block of Heron Drive, found her dead, shot once above her right ear, in a creek bed not visible from the road.
Investigators quickly focused on Ward and Foster after learning that they had been hanging out with Pal the night before.
DNA tests later revealed that both men had had sex with Pal. Ballistics showed that the bullet that killed Pal was fired from Ward's .40-caliber gun, which was found in a drawer in the Haltom City motel room where they lived. And police found shoes, bungee cords, black gloves, a hatchet and a knife soaking in cleaning fluid in an ice chest in Foster's truck.
As police closed in, Ward tried to skip town and left Foster a note that read, in part:
I'm sorry you had to be involved in this. I ... can't let you take the fall for this. I drugged you the other night with your own sleeping pills & took your truck. Just to prove you were out cold I had Mary ride you while you slept. I hope nothing bad happens to you. My hope is that the law will see this too."
The note tried to clear Foster of any wrongdoing, but the police didn't buy it and both men were arrested.
Ward "tried his dangedest to tell these people I had nothing to do with this," Foster said. "But nobody wanted to listen."
But soon enough, Ward and Foster's legal problems mounted: Scientific evidence had connected them to the unsolved murder of another woman.
Rachel Urnosky was an outgoing graduate of Texas Tech University who had moved to Fort Worth a year earlier to manage a popular clothing store.
She was newly engaged and always dependable, so her co-workers became worried on Dec. 18, 2001, when she failed to show up for work. They called police.
Patrol officers arrived at the Canyons apartment complex in west Fort Worth and found her in her bed, fatally shot.
"We buried her four days before Christmas," Pam Urnosky said, crying. "She loved God. She was very devout in her faith. She loved people. ... I have not done as much good as she did in her short life. She was amazing. The world lost a bright light."
For two months, investigators worked the case but had few leads.
And then, in the spring of 2002, a crime scene officer mentioned to homicide investigators that the same caliber gun was used in Pal's and Urnosky's slayings.
Investigators began comparing notes and ordered ballistics tests, which revealed that the bullets that killed Urnosky and Pal were both fired by Ward's gun.
"There were a lot of similarities we just couldn't overlook," then-homicide Detective Carlos Ortega said at the time. "Really, it was just a one-in-a-thousand shot we got the results that we did."
Foster, who had previously lived at the Canyons apartment complex, admitted to police that he had been in Urnosky's apartment with Ward for a sexual tryst but said they left when she asked them to.
In 2004, Ward and Foster were tried separately in Pal's slaying, but during the punishment phase, jurors also heard about Urnosky's killing.
Both were sentenced to death.
In the recent interview, Foster also denied involvement in Urnosky's slaying.
"I have been asked not to even mention her," Foster said. "If they think I have done anything wrong there, I would be willing to go to trial. That would be fine with me, because I didn't do that crime either. ... You know, I'm no angel. I was promiscuous while I was out there, but I ain't no killer. I'm a soldier. I should be home in Kentucky, spoiling my grandkids and helping my parents out. Not stuck up here for something I didn't do."
Not long after Ward arrived on Death Row, he began having violent seizures and was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
He underwent surgery but died on May 13, 2010, at a Galveston hospital. He was 30.
"When Sheldon died, I had no feeling whatsoever, not relief, not joy," Pam Urnosky said. "It was just one less execution we would have to go to."
The families turned their attention to Foster, whose execution date was approaching.
On Jan. 11, Pam Urnosky and her husband, Terry, arrived in Huntsville, where they -- along with Pal's uncle and aunt -- were briefed on Foster's execution and what they were about to witness. But shortly before 6 p.m., they received word that the Supreme Court had given Foster a last-minute stay of execution.
"I just started crying and went to my husband," Pam Urnosky said. "We waited about 10 minutes and we drove all the way back to Lubbock. We drove all night. Its really threw me for a loop. ... It's just all about him."
In a nearby holding cell, Foster was shocked to learn that he would live another day.
"It felt like the hands of God around me," he said. "I couldn't hardly talk. I couldn't move."
Foster's attorneys had argued that his conviction was flawed because his trial lawyers failed to arrange for a blood-spatter expert to dispute prosecutors' theory that Ward could not have killed Pal and moved her body alone.
The Supreme Court reviewed his appeal but later turned it down. State District Judge Sharen Wilson, who presided over Foster's trial, set a new execution date for Tuesday.
Then, a new problem developed: a nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the three drugs used in Texas' executions.
State prison officials have found an alternative -- pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals that has also been used in executions in Oklahoma and Ohio. But last week, Foster's attorneys filed a lawsuit against state criminal justice officials, alleging that they violated procedures outlined in the Administrative Procedure Act by secretly deciding to use a new execution drug without providing notice or allowing public input.
On Friday, Foster's attorneys asked Travis County state District Judge Stephen Yelenosky for a temporary restraining order -- which would have delayed Foster's execution -- until the merits of the lawsuit could be heard. The judge denied their request, which means Foster's execution is still on. But his lawyers aren't finished yet.
They have said they plan to appeal the judge's ruling, saying the case is about more than the type of chemicals Texas uses for executions.
"It goes to the heart of open government," said Maurie Levin, one of Foster's attorneys and a University of Texas law professor.
Foster and his attorneys have also asked the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety to investigate whether the prison system is unlawfully obtaining and storing its execution drugs. They have requested clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Pam Urnosky said waiting to see whether Foster's execution will happen is excruciating.
"It's not about revenge," she said. "To us, it is about justice. I'm not his judge, but I know what he did, and they both had a part in it, and it happened not only once, but twice. I want him to admit he did it. Admit his guilt."
Foster said he hopes that his execution, if it's carried out, will give the victims' families peace.
"I'm hoping it don't go through, but I'm ready if it does," he said. "I've given this to God a long time go. The bottom line is: Texas is not going to kill me until God is ready for me to die."
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