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Joseph Blaine STARVAGGI





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 19, 1976
Date of birth: 1942
Victim profile: John Denson, 43 (juvenile probation officer)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Montgomery County, Texas, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Texas on September 10, 1987

Joseph Blaine Starvaggi

On the night of November 19, 1976 a man by the name of John Denson and his family sat down to watch television. They were soon interrupted by a group of three men who forced their way into their home. The intruders were after a six thousand dollar gun collection owned by Denson, a Montgomery County juvenile probation officer. A struggle occurred and a gunshot went off. The triggerman was Joseph Blaine Starvaggi, a 34 year-old cement finisher. Denson struggled and pleaded for his life. Starvaggi then shot Denson two more times to “keep him from suffering.”

While this was occurring, Grace and Susan, Denson’s wife and daughter, were tied hand to foot and forced to remain under a blanket. Susan Denson, 13 years old, managed to witness her fathers death through a tiny hole in the blanket. She later testified that her father begged for mercy while one of the burglars shouted “kill him, kill him.”

During the trial, she identified the men by their voices. The other accomplices, G.W. Green and Glenn Earl Martin, ordered Starvaggi to shoot Denson’s wife and daughter, but he refused. He claimed he only shot “dopers and pigs.” Starvaggi apologized to Denson’s wife and daughter, refused to kill them, took ammunition from the gun cabinet and left.

Starvaggi was charged for the murder of John Denson and sentenced to death. A last minute appeal was denied by Federal Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

His attorney, Anthony P. Griffin disagreed with the secession and claimed that the jury was selected improperly. He said that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings should have been applied rather than the Texas law when the jury was selected.

Starvaggi’s attorney also claimed that he was temporally insane when the murder took place. This claim resulted from the confession that Starvaggi and the other two men were “pretty loaded” from ingesting large amounts of alcohol and drugs. The dosages of the drugs were not proven and this plea was denied. Griffin said he was not certain if he would be able to win the stay from U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, but he was prepared to take this case to the federal appeals courts. Despite Griffin’s efforts, Starvaggi’s appeals were rejected.

At the time of the murder, Starvaggi was on probation for a burglary and had a long history of property related crimes. He also received a bad conduct discharge out of the military. He said that his previous convictions were non-violent offenses and that a psychiatrists test showed that he was not likely to kill again. The court felt that the evidence posted against Starvaggi were sufficient enough to consider him a threat to society.

On the morning of September 10, 1987, after spending ten years on death row, Starvaggi was strapped to a gurney and administered a lethal injection.

He refused his last two meals and had no final statement. He was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. He became the 26th Texas inmate to be put to death since the state resumed the death penalty in 1982.


Killer Put to Death in Texas's 6th Execution of '87

The New York Times

September 10, 1987

A man who spent 10 years on death row was executed early today for murdering a probation officer.

Joseph Starvaggi, a 34-year-old cement finisher and native of Champaign, Ill., was pronounced dead shortly after midnight by Charles Brown, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Corrections.

Mr. Starvaggi, who made no last statement, was executed by lethal injection for the slaying of John Denson, who was killed during a 1976 burglary at his home as the victim's wife and daughter huddled under a nearby blanket. Late Appeals Fall Short

Federal Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans denied last-minute appeals Wednesday. The United States Supreme Court refused on a 6-2 vote to halt the execution late Wednesday.

In an interview Wednesday, the victim's wife, Grace Denson, said that she and her husband were watching television, and that their 13-year-old daughter, Susan, was upstairs the night of the murder.

''They rang the doorbell,'' she said. ''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.'' Mr. Denson was shot twice more.

Refused to Kill Others

Mrs. Denson recalled how one of the men insisted that Mr. Starvaggi also kill her and her daughter, but that he refused.

Mr. Starvaggi was one of three men convicted in the slaying of Mr. 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 were convicted of breaking into the Montgomery County juvenile probation officer's home in Magnolia, 50 miles north of Huston, and stealing $6,000 worth of guns Nov. 19, 1976.

Mr. 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.


Man put to death for Texas murder

The New York Times

September 11, 1987

A man who shot his pleading burglary victim to death, then spared the slain man's wife and daughter because he killed only ''dopers and pigs,'' was executed by the state early today.

Joseph Starvaggi, a 34-year-old cement finisher, went to his death silently. He had remained calm throughout his last day, prison officials said, requesting no visitors and no personal witnesses to his execution. He was administered a lethal injection at 12:22 A.M. and, after coughing and gasping twice, was pronounced dead eight minutes later.

Mr. Starvaggi had sought a reprieve, but it was turned down Wednesday by a Federal district court, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, and by the Supreme Court. He became the 26th person put to death by Texas since the state resumed executions in 1982, and the sixth this year.

Break-In at a Rural Home

The crime for which Mr. Starvaggi died occurred Nov. 19, 1976. That evening he and at least two other men forced their way into the rural Montgomery County home of John Denson, about 50 miles north of Houston. The apparent motive was to steal a $6,000 gun collection owned by Mr. Denson, a juvenile probation officer.

Mr. Denson's wife and 13-year-old daughter, tied hand and foot and forced to lie under a blanket, heard Mr. Denson, already shot once, beg for his life before Mr. Starvaggi shot him two more times, killing him.

Mr. Denson's widow, Grace, recalled Wednesday that another of the burglars, G. W. Green, had insisted that Mr. Starvaggi also kill her and her daughter, Susan.

''I shoot dopers and pigs, but I don't shoot straights,'' she said Mr. Starvaggi replied. Then, she said, Mr. Starvaggi told her: ''I killed your old man. You had a good old man.'' A third burglar, Glen Earl Martin, was sentenced to a life prison term for the crime, and charges against a fourth man were dismissed. But Mr. Starvaggi and Mr. Green were both sentenced to death.

''Oh, good - one down, one to go,'' Mrs. Denson said today after being told of the Starvaggi execution.

''I've gone through bitterness,'' she said. ''I've gone through everything. I don't like to be bitter, but I am. Why has this taken so long?''



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