Countdown to a Killing

Even The Dallas Morning News yesterday called for the governor to stop Thursday's scheduled execution of Kenneth Foster.

The September issue of Texas Monthly features a long story by Michael Hall on Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who is “rethinking the concept of guilt and innocence.” (The story deals, of course, with the disproportionate number of people in Dallas County exonerated through DNA evidence.)

Read it, then read the lead editorial in yesterday's Dallas Morning News, which condemns the pending execution of Kenneth Foster. His date with the lethal needle this week has death penalty opponents all over the world excoriating Texas in the press.

Then read this essay by Lamar Hankins, an attorney in San Marcos, whose take on the case was published yesterday in the Waco Tribune-Herald.

In 1991, Foster was a 19-year-old hoodlum who went on a robbery spree with three buddies; it resulted in the murder of Michael LaHood, the son of a well-known San Antonio attorney. He was shot by Mauriceo Brown while Foster sat in a car 80 feet or so away. In his trial it was argued that Foster “either intended to kill” or “should have anticipated a murder.”

Hankins writes:

Foster was merely present in the vicinity of the murder, not a participant in it in any way except that he was driving the car in which the killer, Brown, left the scene.

It should surprise no one who keeps up with such cases that Foster is a black man accused of killing a white man, a factor in many capital murder cases. Michael LaHood was the son of a well-known attorney in San Antonio. The LaHood family, through the media, made it known it wanted the guilty parties executed.

The prosecuting attorney withheld evidence that would have supported Brown’s testimony that LaHood was armed and that Brown shot him in self-defense...

This case is not about revenge against Kenneth Foster because Foster didn’t kill Michael LaHood, nor did he even want to kill him. It is about blood lust.

Hankins points out that Brown’s two other buddies, who sat in the car but were not driving, were not subjected to the death penalty. Though Foster was tried in Brazos County, all the revelations of unfair trials tumbling out of Dallas makes the issues Hankins raised in the Foster case relevant to the sea change that is now occurring in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

Texas is the only state in the country that allows the death penalty in the “law of parties.” Foster’s execution will be a great example of The News’ conclusion: "State-sanctioned death is often arbitrary.”

Foster’s only hope for a reprieve rests with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry. The News event went so far as to provide contact information for Perry -- though the mailing address won't do much good. Foster’s date with death is this Thursday. --Glenna Whitley

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky