Perry commutes sentences of man scheduled to die Thursday
Associated Press Writer
HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Gov. Rick Perry accepted a recommendation from the state parole board and said Thursday he would spare condemned prisoner Kenneth Foster from execution and commute his sentence to life.
Foster had been scheduled to die Thursday evening.
"After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendation 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.
"I am concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine."
The seven-member parole board had voted 6-1 to recommend the commutation.
Perry was not obligated to accept the highly unusual recommendation from the board whose members he appoints. The commutation is the first in his more than eight years in office this close to an actual execution. The board decision was announced about seven hours before Foster was scheduled to die. Perry's announcement came about an hour later.
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 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 injection.
Foster's execution would have made 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 system."
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 liar."
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 http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/scheduledexecutions.htm
Kenneth Foster http://www.freekenneth.com