Board votes to spare Texas man set to die tonight
By MICHAEL GRACZYK
HUNTSVILLE ? The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended today
that Gov. Rick Perry spare condemned prisoner Kenneth Foster from
execution and commute his sentence to life.
The vote from the seven-member board was 6-1. The announcement came
less than seven hours before Foster was scheduled to be taken to the
death chamber for lethal injection.
Perry does not have to accept the highly unusual recommendation from
the board whose members he appoints.
There was no immediate response from the governor's office.
Foster was the getaway driver and not the actual shooter in the slaying
of a 25-year-old man in San Antonio 11 years ago.
Foster acknowledged he and his friends were up to no good as he drove
them around San Antonio in a rental car and robbed at least four people
11 years ago before the slaying of Michael LaHood Jr.
"It was wrong," Foster, 30, said recently from death row. "I don't want
to downplay that. I was wrong for that. I was too much of a follower.
I'm straight up about that."
Their robbery spree, while they were all high on alcohol and marijuana,
turned deadly when Foster followed LaHood and his girlfriend to
LaHood's home about 2 a.m. Aug. 15, 1996. One of Foster's passengers,
Mauriceo Brown, jumped out, walked up to LaHood, demanded his wallet
and car keys, then opened fire when LaHood, 25, couldn't produce them.
LaHood, shot through the eye, died instantly.
Brown ran back to Foster's car and they sped away. Less than an hour
later, Foster was pulled over for speeding and driving erratically.
Foster, Brown, Dwayne Dillard and Julius Steen ? all on probation and
members of a street gang they called the Hoover 94 Crips ? were
arrested for LaHood's slaying.
Brown and Foster, tried together, were convicted of capital murder and
sentenced to death. Foster was set to die 13 months after Brown, 31,
was strapped to the same death chamber gurney in Huntsville for lethal
Foster's execution would make him the third Texas prisoner executed in
as many days and the 24th this year in the nation's most active capital
punishment state. On Wednesday evening, John Joe Amador, 32, was put to
death for the slaying of a San Antonio taxi driver 13 1/2 years ago.
Foster's scheduled execution piqued death penalty opponents who
criticized his conviction and sentence under Texas' law of parties,
which makes non-triggermen equally accountable for the crime. Foster
would join a number of other condemned prisoners executed under the
statute, including one put to death earlier this year.
"This is a new low for Texas," said Larry Cox, executive director of
Amnesty International USA, a human rights organization that opposes the
death penalty in all cases. "Allowing his life to be taken is a
shocking perversion of the law."
Foster's lawyers were arguing in the courts that statements from
Dillard and Steen, who were in Foster's car that night, clarify and
provide new evidence that support Foster when he says he didn't know
Brown was going to try to rob and shoot LaHood.
"I didn't kill anybody," Foster insisted from death row. "I screwed up.
I went down the wrong path. I fault myself for being in this messed-up
Foster said he was some 80 feet away from the shooting.
"It's hard for you to anticipate how Brown is going to react," Foster
said. "Texas is saying flat out: You should have known better.
"In life, we have hindsight. Texas is saying you better have foresight.
They're saying you better be psychic."
Dillard now is serving life for killing a taxi driver across the street
from the Alamo two weeks before LaHood's slaying. Steen testified at
Brown's trial and received a life sentence in a plea bargain.
Brown testified at his trial the shooting was in self-defense, that he
believed LaHood had a gun. Authorities, however, never found another
weapon near LaHood's body. Foster did not testify.
"I thought what (Brown) said was good enough," he said from death row.
Mike Ramos, among the Bexar County prosecutors handling the case when
it went to trial, said he found Foster's claims unbelievable and was
irritated by a publicity effort to spare Foster.
"When you let somebody out of your car with a loaded handgun, what do
you expect?" Ramos said. "If he didn't realize it could happen, I think
he's a liar."
Last weekend a group of Foster supporters picketed outside an Austin
church Gov. Rick Perry attends.
"These guys are rewriting history," Ramos said. "He was far from any
kind of angel they're trying to portray."
Ramos said it was clear to him that Foster was "the puppet master
pulling all the strings" during the robbery spree.
Nico LaHood, whose brother was killed, said Wednesday he was frustrated
that people were willing to believe only Foster's story, which he
called "ridiculous and not true."
"I don't know what dynamics are going on that allow us to make the
person who is the wrongdoer to become the victim in this case," LaHood
said. His brother, he said, was being "lost in the whole thing."
On Wednesday, Amador asked for forgiveness for himself and peace "for
people seeking revenge toward me," then was put to death for the fatal
shooting of San Antonio taxi driver Mohammad Reza Ayari.
Another execution, the first of five scheduled for September in Texas,
is set for next week when South Carolina native Tony Roach faces
injection Wednesday for the strangling of an Amarillo woman, Ronnie
Dawn Hewitt, 37, during a burglary of her apartment nine years ago.
Brought to you by the HoustonChronicle.