Thursday, August 30, 2007

Texas governor calls off execution

Murder accomplice Kenneth Foster Jr.'s death sentence is commuted to life in prison, hours before he was to die.

By Miguel Bustillo
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
11:46 AM PDT, August 30, 2007

HOUSTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry today spared the life of inmate Kenneth Foster Jr., just hours before he was set to be executed for a murder he did not personally commit.

Perry's decision to commute the death sentence of Foster -- the getaway driver in a botched 1996 robbery that ended in a shooting -- came after he received a rare recommendation to do so from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

"After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment," Perry said in a statement.

The governor did not address the Texas law that allows an accomplice to be given the death penalty, but said, "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 was tried alongside Mauriceo Brown, the man who committed the murder. Brown was executed last year.

Foster's scheduled execution today, which would have been Texas' 403rd since the state renewed capital punishment in 1982, became an international cause celebre for death penalty opponents, who cheered the governor's decision to reduce the sentence.

But Perry's action angered some victims' rights advocates and friends and relatives of the man killed, Michael LaHood Jr., who complained that political pressures had trumped the will of a 12-member jury.

Foster, now 30, was 19 at the time of the killing. He was driving a car with three other men who together embarked on a robbery spree through San Antonio. The men had already committed two robberies when they began following the car of a woman who herself was following LaHood, 25, to his family's home.

Foster stayed in the car while Brown approached LaHood about 80 feet away, shooting him in the face during a robbery attempt. Foster maintained he never knew that Brown was going to shoot LaHood, an account supported by the other suspects. But under Texas' controversial "law of parties," which allows co-conspirators to be tried for capital murder, he was sentenced to death in 1997 after jurors concluded that he must have anticipated the killing but did nothing to stop it.

Foster's case is not unique in Texas. Keith S. Hampton, his attorney, said there had been at least a dozen cases in the state where murder accomplices received the death penalty.

miguel.bustillo@latimes.com

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