Woman set to be executed in Texas for 1998 killing

MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Published:

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) -- A woman convicted of torturing and killing a mentally impaired man she lured to Texas with the promise of marriage headed for execution Wednesday in a rare case of a female death-row inmate.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-day appeal that argued 59-year-old Suzanne Basso wasn't mentally competent for punishment, clearing the way for her lethal injection. The New York native would be only the 14th woman executed in the U.S. since the high court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. Almost 1,400 men have been put to death during that time.

Texas, the nation's busiest death-penalty state, has executed four women and 505 men.

Basso was sentenced to death for the 1998 slaying of 59-year-old Louis "Buddy" Musso, whose battered and lacerated body, washed with bleach and scoured with a wire brush, was found in a ditch outside Houston. Prosecutors said Basso had made herself the beneficiary of Musso's insurance policies and took over his Social Security benefits after luring him from New Jersey.

The Supreme Court ruling came about an hour before Basso was scheduled to be taken to the Texas death chamber. Earlier this week, other state and federal courts also refused similar appeals. A state judge ruled last month that Basso had a history of fabricating stories about herself, seeking attention and manipulating psychological tests.

Leading up to her trial, Basso's court appearances were marked by claims of blindness and paralysis, and speech mimicking a little girl.

"It was challenging, but I saw her for who she was," said Colleen Barnett, the former Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Basso. "I was determined I was not going to let her get away with it."

Basso's attorney, Winston Cochran Jr., had asked the appeals court to overturn the lower court's finding that Basso was mentally competent to face execution. He argued that Basso suffered from delusions and that the state law governing competency was unconstitutionally flawed.

Her lawyer said a degenerative disease left her paralyzed, but Basso, who uses a wheelchair, blamed her paralysis on a jail beating years ago. At a competency hearing two months ago, she testified from a hospital bed wheeled into a Houston courtroom and talked about a snake smuggled into a prison hospital in an attempt to kill her.

But she acknowledged lying about her background, including that she was a triplet, worked in the New York governor's office and had a relationship with Nelson Rockefeller.

She originally was from the Albany and Schenectady areas of New York.

Prosecutors said Musso was living in New Jersey when he met either Basso or her son at a church carnival, then moved to Jacinto City, east of Houston, with an offer of marriage. Evidence showed Basso was already married but took over Musso's benefits and insurance.

An autopsy showed Musso had several broken bones, including a skull fracture and 14 broken ribs. His back was covered with cigarette burns, and bruises were found all over his body.

Basso became a suspect after reporting Musso missing following the discovery of his body. Five others also were convicted, including Basso's son, but prosecutors only sought the death penalty for Basso.

"Suzanne ran the show for sure. ... She was the one in charge. She directed them. She wanted the money," Barnett said. "She's a heinous killer."

Among witnesses testifying at Basso's punishment trial was her daughter, who told of emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother.

Basso is among about 60 women currently on death row in the U.S., making up about 2 percent of the 3,100 condemned inmates.