Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Kenneth Foster Lives!

Texas Governor Commutes Sentence to Life

When Zenger’s Newsmagazine published last month [September 2007] that, “By the time you read this, it’s likely that Kenneth Foster will already be dead,” it was on the assumption that the state of Texas would live up to its reputation as execution central for the U.S. But a welcome thing happened to Foster on his way to the lethal injection table: Rick Perry, George W. Bush’s hand-picked successor as governor of Texas, actually commuted his sentence to life imprisonment on August 30, the day Foster was scheduled to die for the murder of Michael LaHood in 1996.

Under Texas law, a governor cannot grant a pardon or commute a sentence until the case is heard before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles — an excuse both Bush and Perry frequently used in refusing to spare previous inmates from their death sentences. In Foster’s case, however, the board recommended that Foster’s sentence be commuted because, though he had been the driver in a car with three other men — including Maurecio Brown, who actually shot and killed LaHood and was executed for it in 2006 — he had had nothing to do with the actual killing.

Though Foster’s attorneys had based their challenge to his death sentence mostly on Texas’s unusually expansive “law of parties” — which allows individuals to be charged with murders even if they had little or no involvement in the killing — Governor Perry stressed that his main concern was that Foster had been tried in the same proceeding as Brown, the actual killer. “I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine.”

Foster’s case had become an international cause célebre largely through the efforts of Tasha Foster, a female rapper from the Netherlands who performs under the name Jav’lin. Though they have never touched, she married Foster three months before his scheduled execution after they had exchanged correspondence, including poetry that Foster had written in prison. Foster, too, had been seeking a career in rap music when he was arrested for LaHood’s murder.

South African archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero in the fight against apartheid, was one of many international dignitaries who wrote letters to Perry protesting the death sentence against Foster. The European Union, which opposes capital punishment, urged Texas to declare a moratorium on executions, stating that “there is no evidence that the use of the death penalty serves as a deterrent.”

Texas has executed 402 people since 1976, when the U. S. Supreme Court lifted its temporary ban on capital punishment — nearly four times as many as the next-closest state.