August 30, 2007
Perry Halts Kenneth Foster Execution
Huntsville -- Gov. Rick Perry said he'll spare Kenneth Foster from his
scheduled execution Thursday night and commute his sentence to life.
In doing so, Perry accepts a recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons
and Paroles, which voted 6-1 today to urge the commutation.
Foster had faced execution Thursday night in Huntsville for being the
getaway driver in the 1996 attempted robbery and murder of Michael LaHood in
Perry didn't have to accept the highly unusual recommendation from the
board, whose members he appoints.
But in a statement issued Thursday, Perry said he believes "the right and
just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life
Records show one of Foster's passenger, Mauriceo Brown, demanded LaHood's
wallet and car keys and then opened fire when the victim couldn't produce
them. Foster was tried with Brown and received the same sentence. Brown was
executed last year.
In his statement, Perry said he's "concerned about Texas law that allowed
capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously.
Legislature should examine that issue.
Source : KXAN News
August 30, 2007
Texas getaway driver set for execution
The getaway driver in a Texas robbery spree that ended in murder is set to
be executed in the US today, drawing anger from critics who say he should
not be put to death because he was not the shooter.
Kenneth Foster would join a number of other condemned prisoners executed
under a state statute that makes non-triggermen equally accountable for
their crimes - including one put to death earlier this year.
“This is a new low for Texas,” said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty
International USA, the human rights organisation that opposes the death
penalty in all cases. “Allowing his life to be taken is a shocking
perversion of the law.”
Foster’s execution would make him the third Texas prisoner executed in as
many days and the 24th this year in America’s most active capital punishment
Foster acknowledges that he and and his “knucklehead” friends were up to no
good as drove around San Antonio in a rental car and robbed at least four
people. The spree turned deadly when one of Foster’s passengers, Mauriceo
Brown, jumped out of the car, walked up to Michael LaHood, demanded his
wallet and car keys, then opened fire when he could not produce them. LaHood
Foster says he was 80 feet away from the shooting.
“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.”
“I didn’t kill anybody,” he said. “I screwed up. I went down the wrong path.
I fault myself for being in this messed-up system.”
Brown and Foster, tried together, were convicted of capital murder and
sentenced to death. Brown, 31, was executed by lethal injection last year.
Source : Evening Echo (Ireland)
August 30, 2007
State may execute an innocent man
The Bryan College Station Eagle, Editorial
Kenneth Foster is scheduled to die tonight for a murder everyone
acknowledges he didn't commit. That should be enough to cause everyone in
Texas to wonder if maybe we aren't a little too gung-ho in our use of the
death penalty. Some people believe Foster isn't the first innocent Texan to
Foster isn't completely innocent, of course, but he isn't guilty of the Aug.
15, 1996, murder of Michael LaHood Jr. in San Antonio. Mauriceo Brown shot
LaHood - he later would claim, among other things, it was an accident - and
was executed in Huntsville last year.
On that fateful pre-dawn morning, Foster was driving Brown, Julius Steen and
Dewayne Dillard around. The four were smoking marijuana and looking for
people to rob. Already that night, Brown had robbed four people at gunpoint,
even though Foster reportedly objected.
Brown believed LaHood had made an obscene gesture at him and Foster began
following LaHood's car. When LaHood, 25, and his girlfriend pulled up at
LaHood's home, Brown jumped out of Foster's car to confront him.
LaHood's girlfriend, Mary Patrick, was the only witness to the shooting. The
three men in Foster's car were some 85 feet away and couldn't see what took
place between Brown and LaHood.
Brown was wearing a scarf over his face and Patrick admitted she had been
drinking. After the four men in Foster's car were arrested, she initially
picked Dewayne Dillard out of a lineup, but later switched her
identification to Brown, who later admitted shooting LaHood by accident. He
said his .44-caliber pistol went off on its own. Of course. Shot through the
eye, LaHood died instantly.
Like many murderers, Brown changed his story numerous times. In court he
said he fired in self-defense because he thought LaHood had a gun. He later
said he didn't shoot LaHood at all, claiming it was one of the other men in
the car. At no time, though, did he say Foster knew about the shooting in
advance and participated in any way other than driving the car.
When Foster, then 19, heard the gunshot, he started to drive away, but
Dillard and Steen convinced him to wait for Brown. After Brown got in the
car, they sped off, deciding to dispose of the weapon. Acting quickly, San
Antonio police stopped the car before the four men could get rid of the gun.
Dillard later was convicted in another murder and was not tried in the
LaHood shooting - he says because his testimony contradicted the state's
theory that the four men set out to rob LaHood.
Steen turned state's evidence in exchange for a lighter sentence on the
LaHood murder and another one in which he was accused. Steen, like other
witnesses in other cases, later recanted his courtroom testimony, saying he
was pressured by prosecutors to lie.
Despite repeated efforts of Foster's attorney to have separate trials, Brown
and Foster were tried together. Brown was convicted of the murder. Foster
also was convicted under the state's law of parties, which states that
anyone who participates in the commission of a crime is as guilty as the
person who actually committed the crime. But that assumes that Foster had
advance knowledge of a planned murder.
He did not. Foster, Steen and Dillard all testified there was no intent to
kill LaHood or anyone that night. If Brown had planned to do so before
confronting LaHood, he kept it to himself.
Two years ago, U.S. District Judge Royal Fergeson said the state misapplied
the Law of Parties, thus violating Foster's Eighth and 14th Amendment
That decision was later overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Three weeks ago, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Ð no friend of the
innocent - voted 5-3 to reject Foster's latest appeal.
On Wednesday, former President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop
Desmond Tutu filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court,
asking justices to halt Foster's scheduled execution.
If the Supreme Court fails to act, it will be up to Gov. Rick Perry to step
in and stop the execution.
We hope he does so. Mauriceo Brown was the shooter and he acted alone in
murdering Michael LaHood Jr. He paid the price for his actions.
The state contends that, while Foster might not have known that Brown would
kill LaHood, but he should have.
While Kenneth Foster had knowledge of and, thus, was involved in the earlier
robberies, he did not have any clue what was to transpire when Brown
confronted LaHood. He is not complicit in the murder of LaHood and should
not be put to death.
Good Texans on both sides of the issue can argue the merits and
appropriateness of the death penalty. Surely, though, we can all agree that
it should be reserved only for those truly guilty of the most heinous crimes
- and Kenneth Foster is not.
Source : The Bryan College Station Eagle, Editorial
August 30, 2007
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, opinion
Although his statement could have been phrased a tad more gently, Gov. Rick
Perry was on target when he informed the European Union that Texans aren't
too concerned about what Europeans think when it comes to his state's use of
the death penalty.
Calls from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy
Carter to spare the life of Death Row inmate Kenneth Foster Jr. are likely
to receive similar dismissals.
But Perry and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles should be listening to
what Texans say when it comes to today's scheduled execution by lethal
injection of Foster, who did not fire the gun that ended Michael LaHood's
life that Aug. 15, 1996, night in San Antonio.
Thirteen members of the Texas House petitioned Perry and the board to
commute Foster's sentence to life without parole.
Those voices -- those of legislators who, in the words of their Aug. 23
letter, "are responsible for making the laws of the State of Texas" and
"also assume responsibility for protecting our system of justice from
mistakes" -- argued that the execution of Foster "is just wrong."
No one who has read the case file can argue that Foster is a complete
innocent. He was driving the car that carried the triggerman, Mauriceo
Brown, who was executed in 2006 for killing LaHood. Foster was present
earlier in the evening when Brown and two other men committed two robberies.
Prosecutors in this case used the state's "law of parties" statutes to hold
Foster criminally responsible for the actions of another. Under Section
7.02(b) of the state penal code, if two or more "conspirators" agree to
commit a crime and in the process commit another, each conspirator is guilty
of the crime committed if the crime was "one that should have been
Foster deserves to spend a long, long time -- if not the rest of his life --
behind bars for what he did do that night. But he does not deserve to die --
not today, not at the hands of a state executioner.
Source : Fort Worth Star-Telegram, opinion
August 30, 2007
Execution for the accessory
By: Rick Rojas, The Battalion
Imagine how haunting it must be to know your life has an expiration date.
Especially when it's dated by the power vested in the State of Texas as
punishment for a crime; a crime you weren't sure you committed.
That's reality for Kenneth Foster, the 31-year-old man on death row who will
be executed on Aug. 30 for his involvement in a 1996 murder in San Antonio.
Foster, who was 19 at the time, drove a rental car toward downtown San
Antonio with three friends, Julius Steen, Mauriceo Brown and Dwayne Dillard.
According to a story in the Austin Chronicle, which detailed that night and
the crime moment-by-moment, the four men were club hopping and really didn't
know each other all that well. After getting lost, they ended up in a dark
neighborhood and stopped at a house, getting into an altercation with a
woman who thought they were following her and her companion. Brown got out
of the car and followed the woman. As they sat in the car, the three heard a
gunshot - and Foster sped off as an impulse. He only stopped for Brown to
get back into the car.
Michael LaHood Jr., the woman's boyfriend, was shot and killed. Foster,
Brown, Steen and Dillard were arrested and indicted. Prosecutors, then,
sought the death penalty for Brown and Foster. There's no dispute that Brown
shot and killed LaHood - in fact, his attorney argued the shooting was done
in self-defense. Still, prosecutors persisted with Foster and their quest
for the death penalty under what's known as the "law of parties." Created in
1974 and existing only in Texas, the "law of parties" (Section 7.02 of the
Texas Penal Code) is a statutory procedure where accessories, such as Brown
in this case, can be held just as responsible for a crime as the person who
actually committed it.
Ergo, Kenneth Foster is facing the death penalty for essentially being in
the wrong place at the wrong time.
We will never really know exactly what happened that night in San Antonio.
We don't know what those four men were up to, whether it was mischievous or
innocuous, as they claim. We cannot get inside the head of the prosecutors
who pursued the "law of parties" in this case and see why they sought it.
Nor do we know if such a drastic measure was used because LaHood was the son
of a prominent San Antonio attorney. But a man losing his life with such
clouds of doubt is the ultimate miscarriage of justice.
Texas already has a reputation for liberally using the death penalty. Since
execution was instituted in 1982, 400 death row inmates have been executed
either by the electric chair or lethal injection. And it's concerning to
think that some of them could have been executed for, "acting with intent to
promote or assist the commission of the offense he solicits, encourages,
directs, aids or attempts to aid the other persons to commit the offense,"
the definition of the "law of parties" in the Texas Penal Code.
By definition, the "law of parties" is extremely broad, allowing prosecutors
to just prove the defendant was there and, in some way, provide assistance
to the primary offender - even if unintentional.
While many Texans take pride - or sadistic pleasure, for some - in being
syringe happy in arbitrarily executing inmates, Foster's story is another
reason why this state must reexamine capital punishment. In this system of
justice, mere humans take on the abilities of God; juries decide whether
their peer should be killed for his or her crimes and the governor, at the
end of the line, has the hand of a god, allowing the execution to proceed.
If you need a less homiletic reason, look at the numbers. In 2005, for
example, more inmates were removed from death row than were executed. There
were 446 inmates on death row at the beginning of 2005 - 19 were executed,
31 were removed. By removal, that meant those individuals were taken off
death row for reasons such as overturned convictions, sentence reductions,
commutations or pardons.
Such mistakes happen because the foundation of our judicial system is
people. That is both the blessing and the curse of American justice:
defendants face a jury of their peers with the prosecutors having to meet a
burden of proof. Even though, human beings are imperfect. Hence, errors can
be made - including in cases were a defendant's life hangs in the balance.
Though he was tried before a jury of his peers, the burden the prosecutors
had to meet was proving Foster was driving the car after Brown committed
murder. The debate, though, isn't whether or not Foster was there, but if
being behind the wheel of that car is worth his life. And, in the misguided
perspective of prosecutors in Bexar County, it is.
Unless Rick Perry, as god-and-governor, steps in to halt the execution,
Foster will be executed for being an accidental accomplice. Thus, injustice
Source : The Battalion