Three times over the past year and a half, Cleve Foster has come within moments of being executed in the state of Texas, only to be told the U.S. Supreme Court had halted his scheduled punishment, reported the Associated Press.
Today, Foster 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.
The first time, in January 2011, he'd even been served a final meal, receiving a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before his execution. The second time, in April 2011, he received news of the stay just as he was about to have dinner.
"You can't take your eyes off that door," he told the Associated Press, referring to the steel door through which condemned prisoners must pass.
The third time Foster was scheduled to be executed, in September of that year, his reprieve came on the day of his scheduled execution, but he'd not yet been transported to the unit housing the execution chambers.
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 is not repentant, in fact he denies he committed the offense. "I did not do it," Foster insisted recently from a tiny visiting cage outside death row.
"I don't want to sound vain, but I have confidence in my attorney and confidence in my God," he told AP. "I can win either way."
Inmates no longer get to make a final meal request. Procedures were changed after a state lawmaker complained that condemned inmates were taking advantage of the opportunity and that murder victims never get that chance.
Foster was looking forward to nachos and chicken, the same food served to other inmates the day last year that he made his second trip to the death house, but he never received it. Instead, his attorney tearfully brought him news of another Supreme Court reprieve just before dinner time.
"I've already told the chaplain: Take the phone off the hook before 4 o'clock," he said, anticipating his trip today. "I want to get that last meal."
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Sherri Rae Rasmussen 2/7/1957 - 2/24/1986
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