Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Unjust Justice And A Texas Execution

By Cernig

Reports today that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been given the Patriot Act power to fast-track executions are worrying, but they'll be shrugged off down here in Texas where the locals need no help to hurry along justice-approved killings. The current Governor, Rick Perry, has even managed to break Dubya's gold standard for executions when he was the Governor.

But executing someone who didn't themselves commit a murder? That takes a special kind of "justice.

Kenneth Foster Jr. is scheduled to be executed in Texas later this month for the murder of Michael LaHood, even though everybody — even the prosecutors — knows Foster did not kill the man.

Mauriceo Brown, who has admitted to shooting LaHood to death in August 1997, was executed last year, but barring an unlikely 11th-hour commutation from Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, Foster will meet the same fate on Aug. 30.

On the night of Aug. 14, 1997, Foster, Brown, DeWayne Dillard, and Julius Steen were drinking and smoking marijuana when they decided to use Dillard's gun to commit two armed robberies, according to Foster's attorney, Keith Hampton.

As they drove home, LaHood's girlfriend Mary Patrick appeared to flag their car down. According to testimony from Dillard and Steen, the car pulled over and Brown exited the vehicle. There had been no discussion that he would rob or kill LaHood, and he was effectively "acting out of an independent impulse," according to testimony.

After Brown shot LaHood, Foster, who was 19 at the time, became very anxious and started to leave the scene, but Dillard and Steen made him wait for Brown to get back in the car. They drove off, but were arrested shortly thereafter, Hampton said.

Foster, who was tried alongside Brown, rather than given a separate trial, is charged under a Texas "law of parties" statute that disintegrates the distinction between the perpetrator of a crime and an accomplice, allowing Foster to be put to death, even though he did not actually pull the trigger.
ABC News spoke to legal experts who are shocked at Texas' bloodthirsty application of the law in this case:
"These are extraordinarily severe consequences about what was at best, a guess about what was in [Foster's] mind when these things happened," Robert C. Owen, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin law school said.

"This is a type of case that rarely, if ever, ends up with a death sentence imposed," said John H. Blume, a law professor, and director of Cornell University's Death Penalty Project. "I am willing to bet you there are hundreds of people in prison doing life or substantially less time, who, what they did is as bad if not worse than what Foster did."
Foster's attorney points out that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has only recommended commutation of a death sentence twice in all its years - and the last time, Gov. Perry over-ruled them.

A spokesman for Perry told ABC that Texans overwhelmingly support the death penalty, and that Perry, in his suppot for it, is "carrying out the will of the people." Yeah, be sure to was your hands, Governor.

My long-time friend Kyle Moore writes.
I’m not arguing that Foster is not a criminal, nor that he is innocent, but the way I understand it, the Death Penalty is reserved for only those most heinous of crimes, for the taking of another life. Foster simply did not do this, everyone knows it, and yet he is likely to be executed despite the facts.

...How is this not cruel and unusual punishment? How is this not overstepping the bounds? How in the hell is this justice? Yes, Foster should be serving a very very long term in prison, but where is the sense in killing this man? I just don’t get it. I don’t get how we as Americans stand for this?
Some will say Kyle would feel differently if it had been his close friend, his family memebr, who was murdered.

Maybe. maybe not. Sean Paul Kelly at the Agonist was one of the murdered man's two closest friends. Here's what he has to say:
You see, one night in August 1996 one of my best friends, Michael LaHood, was murdered by Mauriceo Brown. And Kenneth Foster, Jr. was driving for Mauriceo that night. I don't know what the circumstances of Kenneth's involvement were beyond the fact that he was still in the car when Mauriceo pulled the trigger that sent a bullet through my friends brain, ending his life immediately.

Was he being forced to drive? Or was he along for the ride? I don't care. Kenneth deserves and is receiving punishment for his role in the tragedy that occurred that night. But whatever punishment Kenneth does deserve for his role in my friends cruel murder, execution should not ever have been (or be) an option. He did not pull the trigger, or encourage Mr. Brown to pull it in any way, nor was he even aware that the murder was being contemplated or had been committed until after the fact. His punishment should not be execution.

...I still remember eating chicken fried steak with him and D-Day--the third and most successful leg of our triumviral friendship--at Maggies at 3:00am after clubbing, back when the three of us attended the local junior college, were obsessed with the opposite sex but too stupid to realize they were just as obsessed with us as we were with them. God how I'd give anything to have him back. Thinking of him brings a tear to my eyes even now. What makes it worse is that I'd returned from living out of the country a few months before he was killed. A new career kept me busy. We kept postponing getting together. My last words to Mike--two weeks before he was murdered--were a cliché for all clichés: "we'll do it next weekend, buddy, we've got all the time in the world." I couldn't hear the clock ticking. I wish I'd listened closer.

And for that I hated Mauriceo and his gang even more, and for a long time. But the execution of a young man who didn't even kill Mike? That's not justice. It's senseless vengeance, a barbarism cloaked in the black robes of justice.

...Kenneth did not ask for my help; he's already accepted his fate. Someone he helped asked me to help him. I cannot live with myself if I don't try.
Kenneth Foster Jr's case will be heard by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on the 28th of August and he is scheduled for execution on the 30th.

I;m going to leave the last word to Michael LaHood's good friend, Sean Paul, and ask each of you to search your conscience and maybe pass this story around some.
Whenever people ask me about the death penalty I always reply: when you make it to the Pearly Gates, and Saint Peter asks, "justice or mercy?" Which will you choose?