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Joseph Starvaggi - Texas Execution - September 16, 1987
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Thread: Joseph Starvaggi - Texas Execution - September 16, 1987

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    Joseph Starvaggi - Texas Execution - September 16, 1987

    Summary of Offense: Starvaggi was one of three men convicted of forcing their way into a probation officer's home on November 19, 1976, killing him while his family huddled close by, and stealing $6,000 worth of guns.

    Victim: Johnny Carl Denson

    Time of Death: 12:30 a.m.

    Manner of execution: Lethal Injection

    Last Meal: Declined last meal

    Final Statement: None recorded

    Note: G.W. Green was executed for the same crime on November 12, 1991.

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    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    September 10, 1987

    Starvaggi executed by TDC

    HUNTSVILLE - Joseph Starvaggi was put to death today, more than 10 years after he fired three fatal shots into a Montgomery County juvenile probation officer as the man begged for his life during a home burglary.

    The 34-year-old killer made no final statement before being injected with lethal drugs at 12:22 a.m. in the death chamber at the Huntsville "Walls" Unit. He was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m.

    The convict, a former Houston cement finisher, was condemned to die for the Nov. 19, 1976, slaying of Johnny Carl Denson, 48, of Magnolia. Denson's wife, Grace, and a 12-year-old daughter, bound in another room, listened to him plead for mercy. An accomplice, G.W. Green, also is on death row for the killing. The men went to Denson's home to steal a $6,000 gun collection.

    "One down and one to go," Grace Denson said after the execution, referring to Green.

    Three federal courts refused to stop the execution Wednesday, and two judges criticized the last-minute nature of stay requests filed by the killer.

    Starvaggi did not respond or move when media witnesses were brought into the death chamber. He did not respond when Warden Jack Pursley asked him if he had a last statement.

    The convict was calm as his final hopes for a stay ended before 10 p.m. with a U.S. Supreme Court denial.

    "When told about the Supreme Court decision, he said, `I was expecting that. Thank you,' and he still appeared calm after that," said Texas Department of Corrections spokesman Charles Brown.

    The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston earlier denied stays.

    Hughes, in a memorandum to his denial, described the crime as a "casual, gratuitous killing of his burglary victim" and noted that Starvaggi had an earlier execution date - Nov. 25, 1980 - stayed. He said the order lifting the stay was signed Dec. 30, 1985.

    "Not until three years later on the eve of the new execution date was the request made" to halt the execution, he continued. "No reason for the delay is pleaded. None is imaginable.

    "Starvaggi's appellate claims have been exhausted if not abused," Hughes wrote.

    Hughes said Starvaggi's criminal record "while short, was violent" and noted "the burglary during which he slaughtered an unoffending burglary victim was during his probation for burglary."

    The three-judge 5th Circuit panel of Justices Charles Clark, Jerre Williams and W. Eugene Davis, was also highly critical of Starvaggi's legal tactics.

    "Starvaggi deliberately withheld any action until Sept 8. His petition to this court was filed a scant three hours ago. Such a deliberate delaying tactic is merely a continuation of the pattern clearly evidenced through this proceeding," the court's order said.

    "The right to pursue the writ of habeas corpus to seek constitutional relief has been asserted at such time and in such a fractured way as an obvious attempt to secure relief by urgency rather than constitutional merit," the court said.

    "The present effort is a classic example of an abuse of the writ."

    In the appeal, defense attorney Anthony Griffin of Galveston argued that Starvaggi did not receive proper legal representation during his trial and was not a continued threat to society.

    Prosecutors disagree.

    "I certainly felt he was a threat to society at the time," said state District Judge James Keeshan, a former Montgomery County district attorney who prosecuted the case in 1978.

    "The idea of having a family at home watching TV on a Friday night and having a murder committed is always disturbing," said Keeshan.

    Starvaggi, who had a criminal background of robbery, burglary and marijuana possession, refused final visitors and a last meal.

    The night of the killing, Starvaggi and his accomplices burst into the Magnolia home and caught Denson's wife as she ran to a bedroom to pick up a loaded pistol.

    Starvaggi tied up Mrs. Denson and her daughter and forced them under a blanket in the living room. He shot Denson in the kitchen when the officer grabbed a gun away from one of the intruders, prosecutors said.

    Denson's daughter, Susan, testified she heard her father plead for his life before he was killed, saying, "I beg of you, please don't do this."

    Green and Glen Earl Martin, 38, also were convicted in the shooting. Green was sentenced to death, and Martin is serving a life sentence. Charges against the fourth man were dropped for lack of evidence.

    After Denson was shot, Green urged Starvaggi to kill the wife and the daughter, but Starvaggi refused, saying that he only killed "dopers and pigs."


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