A Texas inmate sentenced to die for the rape-slaying of a Fort Worth woman nearly a decade ago, who has been spared from the death chamber twice this year amid appeals, is again scheduled to be executed.
Cleve Foster, 47, is set to die Tuesday evening for fatally shooting 30-year-old Nyaneur Pal, whose body was found in a ditch by pipeline workers on Valentine’s Day 2002. Foster’s execution would be the 11th this year in Texas, the nation’s most active death penalty state.
“God has tapped me on the shoulder,” Foster said recently from a small visiting cage outside death row. “I’m not afraid.”
Foster won his first reprieve in January from the U.S. Supreme Court, which halted his execution again in April when it agreed to reconsider an appeal that raised claims of innocence and poor legal assistance early on in his case.
His execution was rescheduled for Tuesday after the high court turned down that appeal.
Foster’s attorney have filed another appeal contending he did not commit the murder and that poor legal help at his trial and in early stages of his appeal merited another reprieve and review of his case.
State attorneys argued the appeal was “nothing more than a calculated and meritless attempt to postpone his already twice-delayed execution,” according to Stephen Hoffman, an assistant attorney general.
“I’m innocent,” Foster said. “I’m saying that today and I’ll say it when they take me to the gurney.”
Foster and a companion, Sheldon Ward, both were sentenced to death for 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 and her body was found hours later in a ditch off a Tarrant County road. She’d been shot once in the head.
A gun found in the motel room where Foster and Ward lived was identified as the murder weapon.
It also was identified as the gun used two months earlier to kill 22-year-old Rachel Urnosky at her Fort Worth apartment. Foster and Ward were implicated but never tried in Urnosky’s slaying.
“These were bad guys,” Ben Leonard, one of the prosecutors at Foster’s trial, recalled. “Mary Pal came from the Sudan, one of the most terrible places in the world to live, and she came here looking for freedom, here to Fort Worth, to be murdered by these two guys.”
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.
The two men were tried and convicted separately. Pal’s blood and tissue was found on the weapon and DNA evidence showed both men had sex with Pal. Ward said the sex was consensual. Foster said he was passed out from sleeping pills at the time Pal would have been murdered.
“I think the problem was he and Ward got involved in drugs, especially methamphetamines, and were sort of going around and doing not some very smart things,” Rex Barnett, one of Foster’s trial lawyers, said.
Ward died of cancer last year while on death row.
In the Urnosky case, Foster told police he and Ward were the woman’s apartment in December 2001 but said they left after she refused to have sex with them. She was found in her bed, fatally shot, after failing to show up for work. Urnosky was an honors graduate from Texas Tech in 2000, an officer with the Baptist Student Mission at the school in Lubbock and had spent her spring breaks on mission trips.
Foster, who grew up in Henderson, Ky., spent nearly two decades in the Army, reached the rank of sergeant first class, was deployed to the Middle East during Desert Storm and eventually 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 only a short time when the slayings occurred.
Another execution, scheduled for Wednesday, would send Lawrence Russell Brewer to the death house. Brewer, 44, is one of two white men condemned for the notorious dragging death murder of a black man, James Byrd Jr., in East Texas’ Jasper County more than 13 years ago.