An inmate in Texas who saw three reprieves and came within hours of execution twice was executed by lethal injection today, after being denied a stay of execution by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Cleve “Sarge” Foster, 48, was convicted, along with his roommate, of abducting and killing Nyaneur “Mary” Pal, a 30-year-old Sudanese woman in 2002.
Foster was given a lethal injection at 6:43 p.m. CT. Before the execution got underway, he gave a final statement, saying, “when I close my eyes, I”ll be with the father. God is everything. He’s my life. Tonight I’ll be with him.”
Foster also addressed the family members of the victims, saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to be feeling tonight. I pray we’ll all meet in heaven.”
As the drugs began to take effect, he said he loved his family and continued saying it until he lost consciousness.
Foster became the ninth Texas inmate executed this year and the second Texas execution in a week, following last Thursday’s execution of Robert Wayne Harris.
Foster, a former Army recruiter, said he was innocent, but prosecutors say DNA evidence ties him to the killing.
“I did not do it,” he said recently in an interview with the Associated Press.
Foster faced execution three times before, only to be given a reprieve by the Supreme Court. The trips left him with vivid memories of the walk toward death. He told the Associated Press what he remembers most is the steel door leading to the death chamber.
“You can’t take your eyes off that door,” he said.
In the AP interview, Foster detailed what the process of facing execution in Texas is like:
The process shifts into high gear at noon on the scheduled execution day when a four-hour-long visit with friends or relatives ends at the Polunsky Unit outside Livingston.
“That last visit, that’s the only thing that bothers me,” he said. “The 12 o’clock-hour hits. A dozen or so guards come to escort you.”
By Foster’s count, it’s 111 steps to the prison gate and an area known as the box cage. That’s where he’s secured to a chair for electronic scrutiny to detect whether he has any metal objects hidden on his body.
It’s the legacy of inmate Ponchai Wilkerson. Wilkerson, asked by the warden if he had a final statement after he was strapped to the death chamber gurney for execution in 2000, defiantly spit out a handcuff key he’d concealed in his mouth.
“You’re in handcuffs, you’re chained at the ankles, they give you cloth shoes and you have to shuffle to keep them on,” he said.
As he waddles the 111 steps, he gets acknowledgement from fellow prisoners who tap on the glass of their cells.
At the prison gate, armed officers stand by as he’s put in a van and secured to a seat for the roughly 45-mile trip to Huntsville that he says feels like a “90-mph drive.” There are no side windows in the back of the van where Foster, accompanied by four officers, rides to the oldest prison in Texas. Only the back doors have windows.
“It’s like stepping back in time, dungeons and dragons,” he said of entering through two gates at the back of the Huntsville Unit, more commonly known as the Walls Unit because of its 20-foot-high red brick walls.
Prison officials then hustle him into the cell area adjacent to the death chamber.
“Going inside, it’s a little spooky. You can tell it’s been there a while,” he said. “Everything’s polished, but still it’s real old. You look down the row. History just screams at you.
“It’s almost like `Hotel California,'” he said, referring to the song by The Eagles. “You can check out anytime, but you can’t leave.”
Foster was served the same meal as all the other inmates, as Texas no longer grants last meal requests.