I’m sure most of the Democratic candidates will toe the line and support the continuation of the death penalty in America. Which is a shame. It’s one of the main reasons that other developed nations consider Americans to be barbaric. What’s worse, however, is that we know the death penalty is applied disproportionately against minorities and the poor, who lack the resources for an adequate defense. This is a travesty, as Sean-Paul Kelley of the Agonist points out in his plea for the life of Kevin Foster, a man on death row in Texas. A man sentenced to die for the death of Sean’s friend even though Foster was not the person who committed the murder himself:
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.
But we are in Texas and in Texas barbaric laws prevail, like something out of Beowulf or the Old Testament or Reservoir Dogs–one of the very few movies I could not watch to the end for its unspeakable cruelty. Never mind that we are in the 21st century. Never mind that we are supposed to be modern.
Kevin Foster, you see, was convicted under the “law of the parties” rule in Texas (in other states commonly referred to as the Felony Murder Rule) which makes a defendant liable for murder, even if the victim was killed by another person, and even if the defendant did not intend for the murder to occur, if anyone dies as the result of the commission of a felony. Foster was alleged to have been party to a robbery by Mauriceo Brown, the man who murdered Sean’s friend, Michael LaHood, in the driveway of Mr. LaHood’s home. Foster claimed no knowledge of the intended robbery, and never left the car in which he drove Mr. Brown and two other men. One of the other passengers in the car, Julius Steen, testified against Mr. Brown and Kenneth Foster in exchange for a lesser sentence. Brown and Steen had committed two other armed robberies earlier in the evening during the time Foster was with them. It was Mr. Steen’s testimony which tied Kenneth Foster to the alleged robbery and subsequent murder of Michael LaHood by Mr. Brown. In essence, Kenneth Foster was sentenced to death for not taking a plea bargain before Mr. Steen did.
You can find more about the case of Kevin Foster here, here and here. And just for the record, though Sean bashes Texas for its barbaric laws in the excerpt of his blog post above, please note that it was his friend who was murdered in San Antonio. So I think he’s entitled to say what he wants about the laws of Texas.
Let me just add, that Kenneth Foster was black. He had a court appointed attorney who failed to interview Mr. Steen, the principal witness against Foster. This attorney also failed to get Foster’s trial severed from the trial of the killer, Mr. Brown. In other words, he had three strikes against him already before his trial even began.
I don’t know what you think about the death penalty, but even if you support it, surely this is a case for which Mr. Foster’s death is not warranted. The case against him was thin, he wasn’t the killer, and he had a lousy lawyer. Please, and especially if you live in Texas, send a letter to Governor Perry. You can use the form provided here (caution: pdf file).
You can also sign this petition.