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Former criminal to undergo execution

Having spent five years in a South Carolina prison for armed robbery and assault, Tony Roach launched a crime spree and now awaits execution in Texas.

Roach, 30, from Greenville, South Carolina, faced lethal injection for the June 8, 1998, strangling a woman in Amarillo, Texas, at her home. He would be the 24th Texas inmate executed this year in the U.S.'s busiest capital punishment state and the first of five set to die this month.

Ronnie Dawn Hewitt, 37, was killed after Roach climbed through a bedroom window of her apartment, hid there while she took a shower and spoke on the telephone, then attacked her, using a belt to fatally choke her after she pleaded with him to take what he wanted but not harm her.

Evidence showed he raped her after she was dead, got something to eat from her refrigerator, then set her place on fire by lighting an aerosol can of hair spray and using it as a blowtorch.

"That was not a hard one to know we had to go for the death penalty," Rebecca King, the former Potter County district attorney who prosecuted Roach, recalled. "That was not a hard one to present emotionally because he simply can't live.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year denied him permission to move forward with other appeals.

His appeals lawyer, Joe Marr Wilson, said he did not believe he had any legal issues which could form the basis of an appeal, even before the U.S. Supreme Court, to try and halt the execution.

Roach declined to speak with reporters in the weeks before his scheduled execution.

Walt Weaver, one of Roach's defense lawyers at his capital murder trial, said Roach could manage life in prison better than he could cope on the outside.

"He definitely didn't need to live amongst us, but he never was going to hurt a fly in prison," said Weaver, who argued unsuccessfully to a jury that Roach should be given a life sentence. "I really think I failed him."

Roach was arrested in Guymon, Oklahoma, about two weeks after Hewitt was killed. Authorities determined that three days before her death, Roach robbed and beat a 71-year-old one-legged man in Amarillo who died of a heart attack after the beating.

Roach had an extensive record for burglary and theft as a teenager and had five stints in juvenile lockups, records showed. He pleaded guilty to theft and robberies, received six years in prison and was paroled after five years.

He found a job in Greenville but then fled to Jacksonville, Florida, after stealing money, a video camera and a small from his boss. In Florida, he stole money from a motel, then took a bus to Amarillo. a destination his lawyer said Roach saw on a postcard. Besides the two deaths, records showed him responsible for a theft at a store, a purse snatching, a theft from a car, burglary of a house and writing checks from a stolen checkbook.

Scheduled to follow Roach to the death chamber is Joseph Lave, 42, facing execution Sept. 13.

Lave was condemned for a 1992 robbery at a sporting goods store in the Dallas suburb of Richardson where two 18-year-old employees, Frederick Banzhaf and Justin Marquart, were beaten with a hammer and had their throats slit. A third employee survived a similar attack and information from her led to Lave's arrest. Another participant in the robbery was killed by police and a third received a life prison term.

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