Thursday, 30 August 2007

Parole board votes to spare condemned killer

Aug. 30, 2007

Parole board votes to spare condemned killer

By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press

HUNTSVILLE, Texas - The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended
Thursday 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

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.

On the Net:

Texas Department of Criminal Justice execution schedule

Kenneth Foster


Source : Associated Press


August 30, 2007

Death sentence still in question for an alleged accomplice

By: Amanda DeBard, The Daily Texan

The Board of Pardons and Paroles was supposed to make a decision by 1 p.m.
on the commutation of Kenneth Foster's death sentence Wednesday, but no
resolution was reached by day's end.

In 1997 Foster, then 19, was given the death penalty under Texas' "law of
parties," which sentences to death accomplices in murder cases. Mauriceo
Brown, a passenger in Foster's car, shot and killed Michael LaHood in 1996,
but Foster was nearly 90 feet from Brown during the shooting.

"But for the night that happened and but for some other influences at a
particularly wrong time in his teenage years Kenneth would have really gone
places," said Keith Hampton, Foster's attorney.

Foster's mother was a drug addict and prostitute who died of AIDS, and his
father had a bad drug habit and was in and out of jail, so Foster was
shuffled through a number of foster homes.

Hampton has worked on Foster's case for 11 years and said he's watched
Foster grow, develop and transform into a really wonderful, positive human

"Even within the confines of prison Foster can make a real contribution to
the outer world, the free world as they call it," Hampton said. "I think if
his death sentence were commuted to life he would continue in that growth
and really be an asset to our society."

The "law of parties" conspiracy statute was approved in 1989 by the court of
criminal appeals, and at least 12 inmates on death row have been charged
under that statute and executed, Hampton said.

Jordan Steiker, a UT law professor and expert in capital punishment, said
it's problematic for people to be sentenced to death under the "law of
parties" as accomplices where their individual culpability does not make
them among the worst of the worst offenders.

"The strongest argument for commutation is that Foster was a less culpable
participant in the offense," Steiker said.

The death penalty would be excessive for him as an indirect participant, he

Even though Foster's case has been appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of
Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, Steiker said the fact that the courts
would not regard his sentence as constitutionally prohibited should not
preclude the board from granting release. However, that does not mean they
will, he added.

"The constitution sets the out of bounds, the far parameters for excessive
punishment, but it's certainly well within the power of the executive to
make a judgement, an independent judgement, that the death penalty should be
enforced in this case," Steiker said.

The board discusses a lot of cases and has so rarely made a recommendation
for commutation of capital cases to Gov. Rick Perry, that it's always a long
shot, he said. But, the national attention Foster's case has drawn makes it

"I think that the public outcry in this case separates this case from the
[majority] of cases in which there's no public attention at all," Steiker
said. "So I think the board might find political cover in the public concern
about this execution."


Source : The Daily Texan

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