In less than three weeks Kenneth Foster, an African American man sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of Michael LaHood, is scheduled to be executed in Texas.
LaHood’s actual killer, Mauriceo Brown, was executed in 2006. Foster, who was in a car about 100 yards from the crime when it was committed, was convicted under the controversial Texas state “law of parties“, under which the distinction between principal actor and accomplice in a crime is abolished. The law can impose the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred. In Foster’s case he was driving a car with three passengers, one of whom, Brown, left the car, got into an altercation and shot LaHood dead. Texas is the only state that applies this statute in capital cases, making it the only place in the United States where a person can be factually innocent of murder and still face the death penalty.
Foster maintains that he did not know that Brown would either rob or kill LaHood. According to an Amnesty International investigation, there is evidence not heard at trial that the murder was an unplanned act committed by Brown, as the latter himself claimed before his execution.
In 2005, a federal district judge found a “fundamental constitutional defect in Foster’s sentence” and ruled that Foster’s jury had not been asked to determine if he had any intent to kill LaHood, and that this failure represented a misapplication of the law. However, the state of Texas appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned the decision.
The crazy thing about this case is that no one argues that Foster killed the victim. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram‘s award-winning columnist Bob Ray Sanders wrote, the case “is further proof of how cruel, capricious, unjust and utterly insane our death penalty laws have become….Because of this tainted system, whether you believe in capital punishment or not, a man who did not plan or commit a murder will die August 30 unless somebody — a judge, the Board of Pardons and Paroles and/or the governor– has the heart and the guts to stop it.”
You can help these folks get up the guts at freekenneth.com. Find updates on the case and urge members of the Texas legislature to stay Foster’s execution and ask for a re-trial based on new evidence.