September 2012 Executions

Three killers were executed in September 2012. They had murdered at least 10 people.
Two killers were given a stay in September 2012. They have murdered at least 5 people.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
September 9-15, 2012 South Dakota Ronald Johnson Rodney Berget stayed
Ron Johnson, murder victimRodney Berget has been in and out of South Dakota’s prison system since the mid-1980s and is serving life sentences for attempted murder and kidnapping. He was convicted of escaping from the penitentiary in 1984. In 1987, he and five other inmates again broke out of the same facility on Memorial Day by cutting through bars in an auto shop. He was caught in mid-July of that year. Co-defendant Eric Donald Robert was incarcerated at the State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, serving an 80-year sentence for a kidnapping conviction. In that case, an 18-year-old woman told police a man posing as a plainclothes police officer pulled over her car near Black Hawk, told her he needed to search it and then forced her into the trunk. She used her cell phone to call for help, and she was found unharmed. Robert, who most recently was head of a city’s water treatment department and had previously been a chemist with the Environmental Protection Agency, had more than $200,000 in assets and no debt when he was arrested on the kidnapping charges in 2005. Robert contends he was drunk and trying to rob the 18-year-old girl of $200, not sexually assault her. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison and would not have been eligible for parole until he was 83. On April 12, 2011, in Minnehaha County, Robert and Berget killed State Corrections Officer Ronald Johnson with a metal pipe. The pair attacked the prison guard, wrapped his head in plastic shrink wrap and left him to die before using his uniform to sneak past security in an unsuccessful escape attempt. Ronald Johnson was working alone in a part of the Sioux Falls prison known as Pheasantland Industries, where inmates work on upholstery, signs, custom furniture and other projects. Robert put on Johnson’s brown pants, hat and lightweight jacket before approaching the prison’s west gate with his head down, pushing a cart with two boxes wrapped in packing tape, according to an investigator’s affidavit. Berget was hidden inside one of the boxes. Another corrections officer opened an inner gate and allowed Robert to wheel the cart into a holding area, but became suspicious when Robert didn’t swipe his electronic ID card. Robert claimed he forgot his badge and said main control was out of temporary cards. The officer then asked Cpl. Matthew Freeburg if he recognized the guard, and Freeburg said no. When the officer called for a supervisor, Robert started kicking and beating Freeburg and Berget jumped out of the box to join in. More officers arrived to find Berget still beating Freeburg. Robert had climbed the outer gate, reaching the razor wire on top. Both inmates were apprehended before leaving the grounds and taken to a jail in Sioux Falls. Freeburg was taken to a hospital, but returned to work the next day. Johnson, who had worked at the penitentiary for more than 23 years, was a father of two and grandfather of six. He died on his birthday, said his son, Jesse Johnson. "He loved to relax and play with his grandkids," Jesse Johnson told the Argus Leader. "He never had a bad thing to say about anybody." Jesse Johnson said his father, known to friends and family as R.J., had lived through a riot at the penitentiary in 1993 and knew the danger of his job but never dwelled on it. At the sentencing hearing for Robert, a witness who responded to the "code 5" call for help testified, "I saw the sergeant pulling the saran wrap off of RJ’s head, I knew it was RJ." Lynette Johnson, Ronald Johnson’s widow, said she has a hard time responding when one of her six grandchildren ask about their papa. Robert was also sentenced to death.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
September 20, 2012 Pennsylvania Peter Levato, 49
Marlene Sue Newcomer, 26
William C. Nicholls, 32
Leonard C. Miller, 21
Michael Travaglia stayed
Leonard Miller, murder victimOn December 27, 1979, Michael J. Travaglia and John Lesko kidnapped security guard Peter Levato from outside the Edison Hotel and forced him to drive them out of Pittsburgh. Then they drove him to a remote area where they bound his feet and hands, hit him over the head and pushed him over a bridge near the Loyalhanna Dam outside of Saltsburg. When the men discovered Levato was still alive, Travaglia shot him once in the chest and twice in the head. Travaglia later pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and conspiracy for Levato’s death. Then the duo robbed and repeatedly shot Marlene Sue Newcomer, a single mother from Leisenring in Fayette County who had offered the hitch-hiking pair a ride in her vehicle on a bitterly cold Jan. 1, 1980 after she attended a New Year’s Eve party in Vandergrift. While they held Sue captive, they robber an Indiana County party store. Sue was handcuffed, covered with a blanket and stuffed in the back seat of her SUV, which was later abandoned in a downtown parking garage. Travaglia later pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and conspiracy for Sue Newcomer’s death. The next day, they lurked around a hot dog stand near their hotel until church organist William Nicholls pulled up nearby. They jumped in his silver-colored Italian Lancia sports car, pointing the.22 at him. They forced him to to drive them out of Pittsburgh. Travaglia shot Nicholls in the arm, repeatedly punched him and taunted him with a knife. They stole his wallet and his watch. After losing consciousness, Nicholls was gagged with a scarf and taken to a wooded location in Indiana County. He was handcuffed and his legs were bound with a belt. They dragged Nichols down the embankment, put a 15 pound rock in his shirt and dumped him through a hole in the ice into the icy Blue Spruce Lake where he subsequently drowned. Travaglia pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy for that murder. In the early morning hours of January 3, 1980, Travaglia and Lesko repeatedly sped past police officer Leonard Miller at his position at the Apollo Stop-and-Go convenience store. The driver was trying to lure Officer Miller away from the store so they could rob it. When Miller approached the car, Travaglia shot the officer twice, at Lesko’s urging, according to trial testimony. Officer Miller was found lying on the highway by police officers who were responding to his radio request for assistance. His service revolver had been drawn, and all six rounds had been fired. Miller was killed on his third full day as a full-time Apollo police officer. Police investigation turned up the Lancia, abandoned, with the windows shattered and bullet holes in it. Prior to the Miller homicide, state police had received evidence indicating that Travaglia may have been involved in a number of armed robberies and killings which had taken place in Pittsburgh and surrounding counties. Pursuant to their investigation, the state police had found a vehicle, owned by a homicide victim, abandoned near a motel where Travaglia and a man named Daniel Keith Montgomery had been staying. Pittsburgh police located Montgomery in the early evening hours of January 3, 1980 in the downtown area of Pittsburgh. While questioning him, they discovered a.38 caliber revolver on his person. Montgomery told the police that Travaglia had given him the weapon and that he (Travaglia) and John Charles Lesko had at that time talked about "wasting a policeman." Montgomery then told police that both Lesko and Travaglia were staying in a room at the Edison Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. The police proceeded immediately to the Edison where they arrested Lesko and Travaglia. The pair were taken to the Public Safety Building and, after being given the standard Miranda warnings, were individually interrogated. Both gave statements implicating themselves in the killing of Officer Miller, and in the killings of William Nicholls, Peter Levato, and Marlene Sue Newcomer. Following various delays caused by two changes of venue and a mistrial, trial commenced in Westmoreland County on January 21, 1981, before Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court Judge Gilfert Mihalich and a jury selected in Berks County. The jury found both men guilty of the first degree murder of Officer Miller on January 30, 1981. On February 3, 1981, the jury, finding aggravating circumstances which outweighed any mitigating circumstances, imposed the penalty of death upon Travaglia and Lesko. This is the 15th execution warrant signed for Travaglia.

Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
September 20, 2012 Ohio Steven R. Vargo, 41
Charles W. Sponhaltz, 43
Donald Palmer executed
On May 8, 1989, Steven Vargo and Charles Sponhaltz were found dead on a rural road in Belmont County, Ohio. During the investigation of this crime, the police uncovered significant evidence linking Edward Alan Hill and his friend, Donald L. Palmer, to the crime scene. They had been seen in the general vicinity of the crime scene both prior to and after the homicides occurred. Early in the morning on the day of the homicides, Hill, who was driving a brown Dodge Charger, was stopped in the vicinity by the police. A brown Dodge Charger was seen leaving the scene of the crime in a reckless and hurried manner. The police also were contacted by a gas station attendant who had observed Hill on two occasions on the day of the murder. Hill’s mannerism were so suspicious that two attendants felt the need to copy Hill’s license plate number. Later, the police also discovered physical evidence linking Hill to the crime scene — finger and shoe prints on Charles Sponhaltz’s truck bed were determined to belong to Hill. On May 15, 1989, Donald Palmer contacted Columbus police officer Fred Thompson to inquire whether he was a suspect in the homicides. Palmer informed the officer that he and Hill had been in Belmont County on May 7 and 8 traveling in Hill’s brown Dodge Charger. He also stated that he was missing a.22 caliber pistol, the same caliber as used in the shooting. At the end of the conversation, Palmer gave the officer Hill’s telephone number. The officer contacted Hill and arranged a meeting. Prior to that meeting, the police located Hill, Palmer, and Hill’s vehicle and asked the men to accompanying the officers to the police station. The police also obtained Hill’s permission to impound his vehicle. Hill, after being advised of his rights, did give a statement to police which placed him in the vicinity of the crime; however, when advised he was a suspect, Hill asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to speak with the officers about the crime. Palmer, who was questioned next, confessed to the crimes and provided the police with information about Hill’s role in these crimes. Hill, who was advised of Palmer’s statement, was questioned briefly but again refused to speak about the crime. The next morning, Hill was taken to a hearing in the Franklin County court where he was represented by a public defender. The purpose of that hearing was to clear his transfer to Belmont County, Ohio where the crimes had occurred. On the ride between Franklin County and Belmont County he was encouraged by the transporting officer to tell what had happened but refused to speak. At Hill’s initial appearance, two days after he was arrested, Hill was appointed counsel by the court. Immediately following this initial appearance and prior to speaking with counsel, Hill and Palmer, for whom counsel also had been appointed, were transported back to the Belmont County jail. During this trip, Palmer asked the police whether they had found certain evidence about which Palmer had told them. The officer responded no, they had not. Hill then stated that he knew the location of the evidence. Upon arriving at the jail, Hill agreed to take the officers to this location. The officers videotaped Hill’s statements that he was willing to lead police to the location of the evidence and that he understood his rights, including his right to have counsel present. Hill led the officers to the discovery of the victims’ wallets and personal items and spent shell casings. Prior to the introduction of evidence, defense counsel filed a motion to suppress all the evidence and statements obtained from Hill after his initial appearance. The court held a suppression hearing at which the officers and Hill testified. The trial judge found that Hill had initiated the conversation and validly waived his rights and consented to speak with the police; thus, she permitted the prosecution to introduce this evidence at trial. Hill was indicted on six counts in association with the homicides of Sponhaltz and Vargo. Prior to his trial, Hill’s accomplice, Donald Palmer, was tried separately, was found guilty and sentenced to death. The press covered Palmer’s trial and reported Palmer’s testimony. Palmer had testified that he and Hill had intended to check out George Goolie’s home and do some target practice at a range near Goolie’s home. Sponhaltz was driving in front of Hill’s vehicle on County Road 2. Both vehicles drove past George Goolie’s residence at the corner of County Road 2 and Glen Robbins Road. After the vehicles had passed Goolie’s residence, Sponhaltz suddenly slowed down or stopped in the roadway. Hill’s vehicle struck the rear of Sponhaltz’s pickup truck. The record is unclear why Sponhaltz would have slowed down or stopped in the roadway. However, when Palmer confessed to the murders, he told police that he was "almost positive" that Sponhaltz had purposely caused the collision. Following the accident, Sponhaltz and Hill got out of their vehicles and, according to Palmer, Sponhaltz started an argument with Hill. Palmer then got out of Hill’s car with a loaded.22 caliber single-action revolver. Palmer said he attempted to intervene and, not thinking about the gun he was holding, hit Sponhaltz. The gun discharged and Sponhaltz fell to the ground. Hill yelled “Kill him, Kill him” and Palmer shot Sponhaltz two more times. The evidence at trial was sufficient to show that the type of weapon used by Palmer could not have been fired unless the hammer mechanism was first pulled back and cocked. Palmer conceded that the gun must have been cocked and ready to fire when he allegedly struck Sponhaltz. He also testified that he had no idea that the gun was in his hand when he got out of the car. Palmer claimed that he ultimately shot Sponhaltz once by mistake and a second time as a result of confusion. Palmer’s confession to police and his trial testimony indicate that a total of three shots may have been fired at Sponhaltz. The evidence at trial demonstrates that Sponhaltz was shot twice in the head. Thus, if three shots were fired, one of the shots obviously missed Sponhaltz, and the missed shot could have been either the first, second or the third shot fired. For each round fired, Palmer had to pull back and cock the hammer mechanism, and then pull the trigger. Additionally, if three shots were fired at Sponhaltz, it is reasonable to assume that Sponhaltz was shot once while he was standing and once after he fell to the ground or, alternatively, that Palmer fired both shots into Sponhaltz’s head after Sponhaltz fell to the ground. During his confession, Palmer told police that he shot Sponhaltz twice after Sponhaltz fell to the ground and that he knew the shots would kill Sponhaltz. Evidence was also presented that Palmer told Special Deputy David Taylor that he shot Sponhaltz and that he then "shot him again to make sure he was dead." Then Palmer turned and encountered Steven Vargo, a motorist who had come on the scene. Palmer also shot Vargo two times. Palmer testified that, without thinking, he simply "pulled the trigger" and Vargo was dead. However, during his confession, Palmer told police a different story. Palmer told police that after shooting Sponhaltz, Palmer went back to Hill’s vehicle. Hill then asked Palmer to help load Sponhaltz’s body into the bed of the pickup truck. While Palmer and Hill were loading Sponhaltz’s body into the bed of the truck, Vargo pulled up to the scene, backed up, and parked his vehicle behind Hill’s vehicle. Palmer then walked to the back of Hill’s vehicle and shot Vargo in the head. Palmer admitted killing Vargo because Palmer had feared that Vargo may have witnessed the first shooting. Palmer’s trial testimony that he backed away from Sponhaltz’s body, turned, and ran directly into Vargo is also entirely inconsistent with the physical evidence at the scene of the homicides. Vargo’s body was found approximately fifty feet from the location where Sponhaltz had apparently been shot. Therefore, unless Palmer backed away from Sponhaltz’s body for some fifty feet before he allegedly turned and ran directly into Vargo, Palmer’s story at trial was suspect and could have been disregarded by any rational trier of fact. Further, Palmer’s claim at trial that he simply "pulled the trigger" in order to kill Vargo was inconsistent with the evidence concerning the type of weapon Palmer used to kill his victims. The evidence at trial concerning the type of weapon used by Palmer would have made it impossible for him to have simply "pulled the trigger" to kill Vargo. Rather, Palmer would have had to pull back and cock the hammer mechanism, and then pull the trigger, for each shot fired. Moreover, Vargo was shot in an execution-style manner. He was shot once in the left side of head in the temple, and once in the right side of the head in the temple. The shot fired into the right side of Vargo’s head had been fired from point-blank range. Palmer stated that Hill was by the car crying and holding Sponhaltz’s legs. Hill asked Palmer to help him place the body in the bed of Sponhaltz’s truck and Hill drove Sponhaltz’s truck away from the scene. Sponhaltz’s truck was found parked in a field about a mile from Vargo’s body. Palmer also testified that Hill took the wallets of the victims and hid them so that the victims could not be identified immediately. Hill, now 46, was sentenced to a term of 35 years to life. UDPATE: Donald Palmer’s last statement was an apology to the family members of the victims. Witnesses included the widow of Charles Sponhaltz, Tiffany Nameth and his two daughters, Charlene Farkas and Tiffany Sponhaltz-Pugh. Steven Vargo’s widow, Valerie Vargo Jolliffee, and niece were also in attendance. “I want you to know I’ve carried you in my heart for years and years,” Palmer said. “I’m so sorry for what I took from you… I hope your pain and hurt die with me today.” Palmer said that he knows the pain of losing a parent, a sibling and a child, and that he wished his execution could bring their loved ones back to them. “I know it can’t,” he said. “I pray that you have good lives now. I’m sorry.” Some of the victim witnesses spoke to the media following the execution, expressing their feelings that the apology was sincere, but not very impactful. Tiffany Sponhaltz-Pugh said, “We finally have closure to this situation after 23 years, but there’s nothing that can bring back my father.” Vargo’s widow Valerie told reporters that Palmer ruined her life. She had Steven Vargo had only been married for two months when he was murdered. She said it was love at first sight for both of them and she was looking forward to growing old with him. In a letter to the parole board opposing clemency, Valerie wrote that Steven "was a loving man and always helped people. That led to his death. Palmer gave no leniency and deserves no leniency." Tiffany Nameth said, I’ll never forget having to tell my children that their daddy would not be coming home." Her daughter Tiffany Pugh said of Palmer, "He not only took my father’s life, he broke my family apart. He missed my softball games, graduation and wedding. He never got to see his three grandchildren. My father deserves justice."
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
September 20, 2012 Texas Sandra Estes Scott, 37
Dennis Lee, 48
Augustin Villasenor, 36
Rhoda Wheeler, 45
Bemjamin Villasenor, 32
Roberto Jimenez, Jr., 15
Robert Harris executed
Robert Wayne Harris worked at Mi-T-Fine Car Wash for ten months. An armored car picked up cash receipts from the car wash every day except Sunday. Therefore, Harris knew that on Monday morning, the safe would contain cash receipts from the weekend and the cash register would contain $200-$300 for making change. On Wednesday, March 15, 2000, Harris masturbated in front of a female customer. The customer reported the incident to a manager, and a cashier called the police. Harris was arrested and fired. On Sunday, March 19, Harris spent the day with his friend, Junior Herrera, who sold cars. Herrera was driving a demonstrator car from the lot. Although Harris owned his own vehicle, he borrowed Herrera’s that evening. He then went to the home of friend Billy Brooks, who contacted his step-son, Deon Bell, to lend Harris a pistol. On Monday, March 20, Harris returned to the car wash in the borrowed car at 7:15 a.m., before it opened for business. Harris forced the manager, Dennis Lee, assistant manager, Augustin Villasenor, and cashier, Rhoda Wheeler, into the office. He instructed Wheeler to open the safe, which contained the cash receipts from the weekend. Wheeler complied and gave him the cash. Harris then forced all three victims to the floor and shot each of them in the back of the head at close range. He also slit Lee’s throat. Before Harris could leave, three other employees arrived for work unaware of the danger. Harris forced them to kneel on the floor of the lobby area and shot each of them in the back of the head from close range. One of the victims survived with permanent disabilities. Shortly thereafter, a seventh employee, Jason Shields, arrived. Shields noticed the three bodies in the lobby and saw Harris standing near the cash register. After a brief exchange in which Harris claimed to have discovered the crime scene, pointed out the bodies of the other victims, and pulled a knife from a nearby bookshelf, Shields became nervous and told Harris he needed to step outside for fresh air. Shields hurried to a nearby doughnut shop to call authorities. Harris followed Shields to the doughnut shop, also spoke to the 911 operator, then fled the scene. Harris returned the vehicle to Herrera and told him that he had discovered some bodies at the car wash. Harris then took a taxi to Brooks’ house. At Brooks’ house, he separated the money from the other objects and disposed of the metal lock boxes, a knife, a crowbar, and pieces of a cell phone in a wooded area. Harris purchased new clothing, checked into a motel, and sent Brooks to purchase a gold cross necklace for him. Later that afternoon, Harris drove to the home of another friend and remained there until the following morning, when he was arrested. Testimony also showed that Harris had planned to drive to Florida on Tuesday and kill an old girlfriend. Harris directed police tot he body of Sandra Estes Scott, who had been missing since November 29, 1999. Harris’s long history of violence and aggression reveals an escalating pattern of disrespect for the law. Between the ages of eight and fourteen, Harris attended special education classes for emotionally-disturbed children, physically confronted teachers and students, and received a diagnosis of aggressive conduct disorder. At the age of fifteen, Harris assaulted a clerk in the local mall and stole several items from his aunt’s house, including a gun. After his aunt reported the burglary to police, Harris struck her on the back of the head with a hammer so forcefully that the hammer broke. Harris spent two years in the Texas Youth Commission for this incident, where again he received a diagnosis of aggressive conduct disorder. At age seventeen, Harris began dealing crack cocaine. At the age of eighteen, Harris was convicted of three burglaries, evading arrest, and charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. A court revoked his probation for absconding from a residential treatment program, and he spent the next eight years in prison. In prison, Harris resided mostly in administrative segregation due to several violations and aggressive behavior. He attended the Program for the Aggressive Mentally Ill Offender, but the incidents continued. This program ultimately discharged him for non-compliance. Fifteen prison personnel testified regarding Harris’s behavioral problems during his incarceration, which included setting fire to his cell, threatening to kill prison personnel, assaulting prison personnel and other inmates, dealing drugs, refusing to follow orders, and engaging in sexual misconduct. Harris was released from prison in May 1999. That month, he began work at Mi-T-Fine Car Wash. Within six months, he murdered Sandra Scott because he believed she had taken $200 from his wallet. Harris’s psychiatrist testified that patients like Harris were difficult to control, because punishment did not frighten them, and both Harris’s psychiatrist and psychologist agreed upon a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder marked by a persistent pattern of violating the rights of others or major social norms. The facts of the instant offense and Harris’s criminal history overwhelmingly signal Harris’s potential for future dangerousness. Harris has spent all but eight years of his life in disciplinary programs. And yet, his release from prison ten months before the instant offense did not trigger a period of rehabilitation and resolve to remain free but rather a killing spree that culminated in the murders of at least six people. He carefully planned the execution-style murders of his fellow employees by borrowing a car and weapon, then covered his involvement by destroying or hiding physical evidence linking himself to the crime. The evidence further suggests that Harris planned to continue the killing spree.
Date of scheduled execution State Victim name Inmate name Status
September 25, 2012 Texas Rachel Suzanne Urnosky, 22
Nyanuer "Mary" Pal, 28
Cleve Foster executed
Rachel Urnosky, murder victimMary Pal was a native of Sudan and lived with her aunt and uncle in Fort Worth. She worked at River Crest Country Club. On February 13, 2002, Cleve Foster and Sheldon Ward met Nyanuer "Mary" Pal at Fat Albert’s, a Fort Worth bar where all three were regular customers. According to the bartender, Pal interacted primarily with Ward until the bar closed at 2:00 a.m. She then walked to the parking lot with Ward where they talked for a few minutes. Afterwards, Pal left in her car, which was followed closely by Foster and Ward driving in Foster’s truck. Approximately eight hours later, Pal’s nude body was discovered in a ditch far off a road in Tarrant County. She had been shot in the head. A wadded-up piece of bloody duct tape lay next to her body. Her unlocked car was later found in the parking lot of the apartment complex where she lived. The police investigation focused on Foster and Ward once police learned that they had been with Pal that night. On February 21, 2002, police searched the motel room shared by Foster and Ward. Only Foster was present. He directed the police to a dresser drawer that contained a gun Ward had purchased from a pawn shop in August 2001. Later that day, Foster voluntarily went to the police department to give a statement and to provide a DNA sample. In his statement, Foster first denied Pal had been inside his truck. However, he then admitted that she may have leaned inside. Finally, he admitted that "they" went cruising, but that "they" brought Pal back to her vehicle at Fat Albert’s. Police also obtained a DNA sample from Ward sometime on the night of February 21, 2002. In the early morning hours of February 22, 2002, Ward called a friend to ask if he could stay with him. Ward told the friend over the phone that he was in trouble because he killed someone. The friend arrived at the motel around 2:00 or 2:30 a.m. to pick up Ward. While in the truck, Ward told his friend that he followed a girl home from a bar, forced her into a truck at gunpoint, took her out to the country, raped her, and shot her. Ward did not mention Foster. The friend stopped the truck at a store and got the police to arrest Ward. Ward then told police that he had been drinking heavily and using cocaine the night of the offense. He claimed that he and Pal arranged to meet after Fat Albert’s closed. Ward also told the police that he drove alone to Pal’s apartment in Foster’s truck to pick up Pal, and that he and Pal had consensual vaginal and anal sex on the front seat of Foster’s truck before they drove back to the motel room where Foster was "pretty much passed out" on the bed. Ward claimed that he and Pal had consensual vaginal sex again in the motel room before they left to drive around. Ward recalled standing over Pal’s body lying on the ground with a gunshot wound to her head and a gun in his hand. Ward claimed not to remember firing the gun. He told police that he stripped her body and dumped her clothes in a dumpster. Ward explained that he left a note in the motel apologizing to Foster for involving him. Ward also stated that he told his friend a few hours earlier that he had sex with a girl and killed her. On March 22, 2002, Foster gave another written statement to police in which he claimed: (1) he and Ward followed Pal to her apartment after meeting her at Fat Albert’s; (2) Pal voluntarily went with them to their motel room in his truck; (3) after taking sleeping pills and drinking beer, Foster fell asleep watching television while Ward and Pal kissed; and (4) Foster awoke to Pal performing oral sex on him. In addition to Foster’s and Ward’s statements, physical evidence also linked the two to the offense. DNA tests established that semen found in Pal’s vagina contained Foster’s DNA, and semen found in Pal’s anus contained Ward’s DNA. Ward may also have been a minor contributor to the semen found in Pal’s vagina. DNA testing also revealed that Pal’s blood and tissue were on the gun recovered during the motel room search. In addition, a police detective and medical examiner testified that Pal was not shot where her body was found because there was no blood splatter in the area. Since the soles of her feet indicated that she had not walked to the location where her body was found, the detective testified that he was "very comfortable" with stating that two people carried Pal’s body to that location. In support of his testimony, the detective noted that the raised-arm position of Pal’s body suggested she may have been carried by her feet and hands. In addition, the detective noted that Pal was five-seven and 130 pounds and Ward is only five-six and 140 pounds, while Foster is six feet tall and around 225 pounds. In February 2004, Foster was convicted of the rape and capital murder of Pal. Based on the necessary jury findings during the punishment phase, the trial court sentenced Foster to death. Sheldon Ward was also sentenced to death for Mary Pal’s murder but he died of a brain tumor in prison in May 2009. The gun that was used as the murder weapon was also identified as the gun used in December 2001 to kill Rachel Urnosky , 22, at her apartment in Fort Worth. Both men were charged in Rachel’s murder, but never tried. Foster told police they were both at her apartment but they left after she refused to have sex with them. When she did not report for work at Buckle, a clothing store at a local shopping mall, her manager called police. They found the door to her apartment open and Rachel was found shot to death in her bed. Rachel was a magna cum laude graduate from Texas Tech and an officer with the Baptist Student Mission and spent her spring breaks on mission trips. She had recently gotten engaged. Rachel’s father Terry Urnosky said his wife and other three daughters were just taking life one day at a time, hoping some day they’ll find new hope and the strength to continue. "She was just so cruelly and so quickly taken away it has just left a void that it can be a real struggle just to put one foot in front of the other. Her whole life she just wanted the best for people, to do anything she could possibly do to make their life a success, she was a blessing everywhere she went and she’ll be so missed, so sorely missed by all of us." The US Supreme Court granted a stay of execution to Cleve Foster in April 2011, just a few hours before he was supposed to face his punishment for the murder of Mary Pal. The court granted the stay based on claims that Foster’s attorneys were ineffective. This was the second time Foster received a stay on the day of execution. Rachel Urnosky’s family had traveled to Huntsville from Lubbock. "I just want it to be over," said Rachel’s mother, Pam. "This is astounding to me. The irony is that my daughter didn’t get such consideration. I have been so upset. Sickened. We buried her four days before Christmas. I have not done as much good as she did in her short life." She also said, "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." "It’s like our hearts just dropped to the floor," Terry Urnosky said. "The thing that hurts so much is the unfairness of it. They gave my daughter no stay of execution. In this particular case, when justice is carried out, it will be a vindication of my daughter’s life. We just hope justice will be served quickly." Read more here:
and here:

Page visited times since 4/7/12

Page last updated 12/06/12