Waiting forever to die: One Galveston killer’s long death-row stay

Warren Bridge on death row in 1988 (The Galveston Daily News)

Warren Bridge on death row in 1988 (The Galveston Daily News)

On a balmy February day in 1980, Warren Eugene Bridge and Robert Costa holed up in their room at the Surf Motel in Galveston and drank. Sometime after dinner they ran out of beer. As the long night wore on, they hatched a plan to raid the Stop and Go convenience store at 710 Holiday Drive.

Bridge, who at 19 already had served prison time for three burglary convictions in Georgia, likely had no problem robbing the store. But when they got there, Costa pressed a .38-caliber revolver into his hand. Shortly after midnight, Costa walked up to the counter and asked for the beer, acting like he was going to pay. Bridge pulled the gun and trained it on the clerk, 62-year-old Walter Rose.

A few minutes later, two witnesses saw the men running from the store. When they went to check it out, they found Rose lying on the floor, four bullet holes riddling his body. An ambulance rushed Rose to John Sealy Hospital, and investigators began trying to piece together what had happened. In the store’s parking lot, they found $24. The thieves had taken the cash from the register but dropped it in their rush to escape.

Back at the Surf Motel, Costa and Bridge told two friends what they’d done. They buried the gun on the beach and figured they’d gotten away with it. Bridge followed the investigation in The Galveston Daily News, clipping stories and stashing them in a small photo album. They included updates on Rose, still fighting for his life despite his injuries.

Ten days after the crime, on Feb. 20, police executed a drug raid on the motel. After only a month on the island, Bridge had already earned quite a reputation for cooking and selling speed. The narcotics team found Bridge’s meth lab—and his photo album of newspaper clippings. It didn’t take long for him to confess to shooting Rose.

Four days later, the clerk died, and the district attorney filed murder charges against Bridge.

The caption reads: Three county inmates escaped through hole in wall (The Galveston Daily News)

The caption reads: Three county inmates escaped through hole in wall (The Galveston Daily News)

In early June, a welder began making repairs to a catwalk at the Galveston County Jail. He left a door unlocked, and Bridge saw his chance to escape. He and two other inmates ran through the door and kicked a hole into the jail’s outer brick wall, dropping several feet onto the roof below. Someone on the outside spotted them jumping to the ground, but by the time jailers got there, the inmates were long gone.

Police captured one man quickly, but Bridge and the other inmate managed to get across the causeway before roadblocks cut off their escape. Reports of a shoplifter at a convenience store at Texas and First Street in La Marque alerted police to their presence. Bridge’s accomplice surrendered, but Bridge escaped into nearby fields. Helicopters from the Pasadena Police Department and a local petroleum company criss-crossed the area, spotlighting the fields in search of Bridge. As dawn neared, search crews decided to regroup. Galveston County Sheriff’s Deputy Wayne Cook had filled out his last batch of paperwork shortly before 10 a.m. and was headed home when he spotted a man walking down Hwy. 146 near FM 1765. Bridge didn’t put up a fight when Cook confronted him, and the deputy arrested him without incident.

Two months later, Bridge went on trial. It took a jury of nine men and three women just 80 minutes to declare him guilty. The Daily News didn’t bother reporting on the testimony details, announcing Bridge’s fate in a 200-word, bare-bones story. Five days later, the jury delivered the “swiftest death penalty verdict in Galveston County’s history”—taking less than an hour to decide Bridge deserved to forfeit his life.

Costa, charged with aggravated robbery, got a 13-year sentence. He served less than half of it, gaining parole on Oct. 28, 1986. Thanks to the automatic appeals process, Bridge was still waiting for his execution date when his accomplice walked free.

Bridge’s life of crime didn’t end with his incarceration. In 1984, he helped make a bomb and toss it into another man’s cell. The victim was African-American and the man prison officials accused of orchestrating the attack was a known member of the Aryan Brotherhood. In 1985, Bridge stabbed another inmate during a riot, earning himself a separate 10-year sentence.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Bridge’s murder conviction in October 1986. The Galveston court set his execution date for July 1987. With a month to spare, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay while his new lawyer, Galveston attorney Anthony Griffin, pressed another appeal. Griffin argued Bridge’s first legal team provided him inadequate representation.

A year later, Daily News reporter Joel Krikpatrick traveled to Huntsville to interview Bridge. The convicted killer called Texas’ reliance on lethal injection “cowardly.”

“I would rather be shot,” he said. “I would rather die standing up. The way they do it now is a druggy way to die. I wouldn’t want to be hanged or to ride on old sparky. Just a plain bullet is cleaner somehow.”

Bridge told Kirkpatrick he regretted killing Rose but didn’t show much remorse. He revealed Rose’s widow had sent him a Bible, “like she wanted me to repent or something.” But repentance seemed far from his mind. He declared his victim got a better deal because he died quickly and didn’t know what was coming when he went to work that day.

“If I had a worst enemy, and wanted to punish him, I would put him on death row and let him wait forever to die, not knowing when it would happen, but being almost sure it would,” Bridge said.

At the time of the interview, Bridge thought he had just two more months to live. But Griffin secured another stay, this time from the U.S. Supreme Court. Eighteen months later, the high court set aside Bridge’s sentence, asking the 5th Circuit to review the case in light of a new ruling that said juries must consider a defendant’s mental deficiencies when assessing criminal penalties. By the time word of the stay came down, Bridge had already had his final meal: fried fish and french fries.

But he had many more meals before him. It took another two years for the 5th Circuit to reinstate Bridge’s death sentence. On Nov. 22, 1994, almost 15 years after killing Walter Rose, Bridge finally ran out of last chances. Strapped to the gurney in the execution chamber, he directed his final words to his step-father: “See ya.”

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