QUESTIONS ANSWERED BEFORE EXECUTION
Butch Heller, convicted of brutal 1999 Central Texas murder, slated for death at 9 p.m.
By Veronica Stein | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUSTIN, Texas — Since his arrest on a murder charge in July 1999, Butch Heller had never wavered on two points. He continues to maintain his innocence in the brutal slaying of Summer Foster, the crime for which he has been on Death Row for nearly two decades. Heller also said earlier this year that he still loves Foster, whose life was taken as the small Central Texas town of Hinterbach watched its annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
He changed his position on one of those issues earlier this week.
After the Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied his request for a final interview before his execution — scheduled for 9 p.m. today — Heller sent a letter to a Lone Star Ledger reporter. The seven-page, handwritten document covered a wide range of topics, but it ended with a confession — and a promise.
“I wish I could see you,” Heller wrote. “I wish I could see anybody outside of these walls. But I ruined that a long time ago. I got drunk and killed her. I sometimes wonder how our lives would’ve turned out if I hadn’t.”
Heller continued to lament on the life he might’ve led were it not for the events of July 4, 1999 (read more about the murder here) before ending the letter by previewing his final moments.
“I don’t think I’m going to say anything before they inject me. They’re going to ask me if I want to say any last words, and I’m just going to shake my head, then drift off. I’ve said everything I need to say in this letter. Thank you for reading, and for coming to visit. It has meant the world to me.”
Before confessing to beating Summer Foster to death, Heller answered a few other questions that had surrounded the case.
Authorities have claimed Heller believed Foster — the woman with whom he lived for the greater part of two years before the murder — was having an affair. They pointed to that as his motive for killing Foster, but they were never able to prove it.
But in his letter, the only copy of which was sent exclusively to the Ledger, Heller confirms the long-held theory.
“One of my biggest regrets in life, other than the obvious one, is blowing up at Summer after she told me about sleeping with that neighbor boy. She told me in the middle of her party, and that’s why I left to go drink. If I’d stayed there and talked it out with her, I probably wouldn’t have gotten arrested.”
The other central figure in the investigation and trial of Butch Heller is Bartholomew John Beck, Foster’s former neighbor who witnessed the murder as a 16-year-old. He recounted the slaying to the police that night and was District Attorney Martin Gamble’s key witness during the trial. Beck later wrote a true crime book about the case. Writing as John Beck, Cold Summer: The true story of a murder that rocked the Texas Hill Country debuted at No. 47 on the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction and remained near that spot for two weeks. It was similarly ranked when the book came out in paperback.
When he heard the letter read via telephone, Beck first said he was not the “neighbor boy” Heller mentioned in the letter. Beck then said he was pleased Heller had found peace with what he did, and he hoped his execution could help bring closure to those affected by the case.
“Butch Heller changed a lot of lives that day,” Beck said. “Summer Foster was a pillar of the Hinterbach community in the 1990s, and she is still missed by many of the people whose lives she enriched. We can only hope they find some peace when this case comes to its final resolution.”
Gamble and Heller’s defense attorney, Jackson McGrady of Austin, declined to comment for this story.
One question never answered by Heller — either during police and media interviews in the 20 years since killing Foster, or in the letter sent to the Ledger — is why he left a Phillips head screwdriver sticking out of her eye. Police and other authorities never provided an explanation, except to say that it was a crime of passion.
It appears the answer to that question will die, along with Heller, at 9 p.m.