Yesterday, January 11, 2011, Cleve Foster received a last minute stay of execution from the U.S. Supreme Court. By around 6:15 pm Tuesday, more than 60 people had gathered at the Texas Capitol to protest the scheduled execution when the news of a stay of execution came in a phone call from other protesters gathered outside The Walls Unit in Huntsville (Photos from Capitol).

On the same day, the Illinois Legislature voted to abolish the death penalty and sent the bill to the governor of Illinois.

Yesterday was also the first day of the 2011 Texas legislative session, during which a moratorium on executions will be one of the issues under consideration.

From the AP:

The U.S. Supreme Court gave a last-minute stay of execution Tuesday evening to a Desert Storm veteran and former Army recruiter convicted of raping and killing a Sudanese immigrant in Fort Worth in 2002.

Cleve Foster, 47, known as “Sarge” on Death Row, had eaten his final meal and was waiting to walk a few steps to the death chamber when the court’s brief order was received just before 6 p.m., a prison spokesman said.

The court offered no explanation for its decision or why justices other than Justice Antonin Scalia participated. Scalia can act alone on Texas execution appeals. But he can also ask other justices to vote on whether to hear an appeal.

The order indicated that Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito dissented from the majority vote and would have allowed the execution to proceed.

When prison officials asked Foster whether he was surprised to get a reprieve, he said, “I was and I wasn’t. I gave it to God a long time ago.”

He also said he was gratified by support from friends, calling it “really humbling.”
Foster’s execution would have been the first this year in Texas.

Foster has always maintained that his co-defendant, Sheldon Ward, was responsible for fatally shooting 30-year-old Nyaneur “Mary” Pal on Feb. 13, 2002.

Ward, one of Foster’s Army recruits, was also condemned for the slaying. He died of cancer last year in prison.

In their latest appeal, Foster’s attorneys argued that his conviction was flawed because trial lawyers failed to arrange for a blood-spatter expert to dispute a detective’s testimony that Ward couldn’t have killed Pal and moved her body to where it was found all by himself. If they had presented such testimony, there was “at least a reasonable probability that the result of Mr. Foster’s trial would have been different,” appellate attorney Clint Broden said.

Prosecutors insisted that evidence showed that Foster actively participated in the woman’s killing, offered no credible explanations, and lied and gave contradictory stories about his sexual activities with Pal. His eleventh-hour appeal “recycles the stale arguments that state and federal courts have already considered in rejecting Foster’s protestations of innocence,” Jonathan Mitchell, an assistant Texas solicitor general, wrote in the state’s response.

Foster declined to speak with reporters in recent weeks. In 2005, he told The Associated Press that he viewed the evidence against him as prosecutors “pulling stuff out of their hat.”
“I didn’t do this,” he said of Pal’s killing.

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