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URGENT Death Row Inmates Executed

September 10, 1987

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A man who spent 10 years on death row was executed early Thursday for murdering a probation officer who begged for mercy as his wife and daughter huddled under a blanket nearby.

Joseph Starvaggi, 34, a cement finisher and native of Champaign, Ill., was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. by Charles Brown, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Corrections.

Starvaggi, who made no last statement, was executed by lethal injection for the slaying of John Denson, murdered during a 1976 burglary at his home.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied last-minute appeals Wednesday. The U.S. Supreme Court refused on a 6-2 vote to halt the execution late Wednesday.

Starvaggi was one of three men convicted in the slaying of Denson. G.W. Green, of Houston, also is on death row, while Glen Earl Martin, of Houston, is serving a life prison term.

The three broke into the Montgomery County juvenile probation officer’s home in Magnolia, 50 miles north of Huston, and stole $6,000 worth of guns Nov. 19, 1976.

On the night of the break-in, Grace Denson said she and her husband were watching television, and that their 13-year-old daughter, Susan, was upstairs.

″They rang the doorbell,″ she recalled in an interview Wednesday. ″It was during a commercial. I started going upstairs. On the third step, I heard something and looked around and this guy was pushing inside with a gun.″

One of the burglars ordered that she and her daughter remain upstairs, throwing a blanket over them.

″He went downstairs and we heard a shot,″ she said, adding that he later ordered them downstairs but kept the blanket over their heads.

Susan, however, could see through a hole in the blanket. She testified that her father, shot once, begged for mercy while one of the burglars shouted, ″Kill him, kill him.″

Denson was shot twice more.

Mrs. Denson recalled how one of the men insisted that Starvaggi also kill her and her daughter.

″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.″

Defense lawyer Anthony Griffin argued in his appeals that Starvaggi was not a continued threat to society, that he had ineffective legal assistance at trial and that jury selection was improper.

Starvaggi was the 26th Texas inmate put to death since the state resumed the death penalty in 1982 and the sixth in Texas this year.

″I’ve gone through bitterness. I’ve gone through everything,″ Mrs. Denson said before the execution. ″I don’t like to be bitter but I am. Why has this taken so long?″

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