Woman executed for torture, slaying in Harris County

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 05, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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A woman convicted of torturing and killing a mentally impaired man she lured to Harris County with the promise of marriage was executed Wednesday evening.

When asked whether she had a final statement, Suzanne Basso, 59, told a warden who stood near her, “No, sir.” She appeared to be holding back tears, then smiled at two friends watching through a window. She mouthed a brief word to them and nodded.

She was pronounced dead at 6:26 p.m.

Basso was the 14th woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume. Almost 1,400 men have been put to death during that time. Texas has executed five women and 505 men.

The last woman executed in Texas before Basso was Kimberly McCarthy, who was put to death in June for killing her 71-year-old neighbor in Lancaster and cutting off her finger to steal her wedding ring.

Basso’s execution came about an hour after the Supreme Court rejected a last-day appeal from Basso’s attorney who argued she was not mentally competent.

Lower federal courts and state courts also refused to halt the punishment, upholding the findings of a state judge 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., argued she 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 used 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.

Basso was sentenced to die 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.

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.

Five other people were convicted, including Basso’s son, but prosecutors sought the death penalty only 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.

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