Texas executes man convicted in Fourth of July slaying

Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A 63-year-old Texas inmate was executed Thursday evening for the Fourth of July murder of a high school librarian two decades ago.

Butch Heller

Butch Heller received a lethal injection for the fatal beating of Summer Foster on July 4, 1999, outside of her home in Hinterbach, a small Central Texas town. Foster, the Hinterbach High School librarian, had been Heller’s live-in girlfriend for at least two years before the slaying that attracted national attention and sparked the bestselling true crime novel, “Cold Summer.”

In a report filed earlier Thursday by the Lone Star Ledger, an online nonprofit news organization based in Austin, Heller said he wouldn’t be giving any last words prior to his execution. True to his word, Heller shook his head when asked if he’d like to speak, then closed his eyes for the last time.

Bartholomew John Beck, who witnessed the murder when he was 16 and testified in Heller’s trial before writing a true crime book on the case, said Thursday afternoon he hoped the Hinterbach community could find closure in Heller’s execution.

“Butch Heller caused a lot of pain for a lot of people, including me,” Beck said. “What he did may never be forgiven by those who were close to Summer Foster, but perhaps knowing he was punished to the fullest extent of the law will help bring them some measure of peace.”

Heller’s defense attorney, Jackson McGrady of Austin, was not present at the execution and declined comment earlier Thursday. In past interviews, Jackson has said he didn’t feel authorities properly investigated other suspects.

Heller had been slated for execution once before but received a stay from the United States Supreme Court less than an hour before he was to receive a lethal injection.

More DNA testing was done, but a judge for the Western District of Texas denied the appeal.

A Nimitz County jury originally convicted Heller of capital murder in the death of Summer Foster in 2001. The same jury handed down the death penalty.

The prosecution argued Heller believed Foster, with whom he had recently reconciled, was having an affair. He then left Foster’s Fourth of July party to get severely intoxicated, District Attorney Martin Gamble said during the trial.

Upon returning to Foster’s house, authorities said Heller found Foster alone and beat her to death during a local fireworks show.

Heller had long contended he found Foster already beaten and tried to save her before running to a neighbor’s house to get them to call police.

However, according to the Ledger report, Heller confessed in a letter written and mailed to reporter Veronica Stein.

The AP has not independently verified the letter or the Ledger story.

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