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Texas Death Row Inmate Executed For 1976 Burglary-Slaying

September 10, 1987

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A man who shot to death a probation officer during a burglary but spared the victim’s wife and daughter because he killed only ″dopers and pigs″ was executed by injection today.

Joseph Starvaggi, 34, went to his death silently for the 1976 burglary of John Denson, whose wife and 13-year-old daughter heard Denson beg for his life before Starvaggi shot him dead.

Starvaggi, a cement finisher and native of Champaign, Ill., coughed twice and gasped twice before doctors pronounced him dead at 12:30 a.m., eight minutes after the lethal drugs began passing into his arms.

Starvaggi, whose record included arrests for burglary and marijuana possession, lost appeals Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Houston and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans before the U.S. Supreme Court, on a 6-2 vote, also rejected pleas for a reprieve.

Starvaggi, the 26th murderer to death here since the state resumed executions in 1982 and the sixth this year, spent his final day in a small holding cell adjacent to the death chamber and declined to have a final evening meal.

Prison officials said he remained calm throughout the day. He requested no visitors and no personal witnesses to his death.

The Denson burglary and slaying occurred the evening of Nov. 19, 1976, as Starvaggi and at least two other men forced their way into the family’s rural Montgomery County home about 50 miles north of Houston.

Denson’s wife and daughter, tied hand and foot and forced to lie under a blanket, heard Denson - already shot once - beg for his life before Starvaggi shot him two more times, killing him, authorities said.

Starvaggi and another man, G.W. Green, were convicted and sentenced to death. Glen Earl Martin received a life prison term. Charges against a fourth man were dismissed.

″Oh, good 3/8 One down, one to go,″ Denson’s widow, Grace, said after she was informed of the execution.

″I’ve gone through bitterness. I’ve gone through everything. I don’t like to be bitter but I am. Why has this taken so long?″

The apparent motive for the break-in was to steal a $6,000 gun collection owned by Denson, who was a county juvenile probation officer.

Mrs. Denson recalled Wednesday how Green insisted that Starvaggi also kill her and her daughter, Susan.

″I shoot dopers and pigs but I don’t shoot straights,″ she said Starvaggi told him. Then, she said Starvaggi told her, ″I killed your old man. You had a good old man.″

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