[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jul 4 16:06:20 CDT 2007
On Death Row: Texas' 'Law of Parties'
The Texas "law of parties" is back in the death row spotlight, with the
filing of a final appeal for condemned Texas inmate Kenneth Foster,
scheduled for execution Aug. 30 for his role in the 1996 murder of Michael
LaHood in San Antonio.
Foster and 3 other men, Julius Steen, Dwayne Dillard, and Mauriceo Brown,
were riding around San Antonio on Aug. 14, 1996, in a rental car Foster
borrowed from his grandfather. Brown had a gun, and earlier that evening
the 4 men participated in two random robberies stealing money and
possessions from random people in parking lots but physically harming no
one. After midnight, the four found themselves riding behind two cars in
an unfamiliar part of town. Foster, then 19, followed the cars, which
eventually stopped outside a large house at the top of a steep driveway.
There were several cars there, and it looked like there might be a party.
The 4 men stopped; a young woman approached and leaned into the car. She
bickered about them following her car and then eyeballing her figure. The
woman walked up the driveway, and Foster was about to drive away when
Brown jumped out of the car and followed the woman and LaHood toward an
entry gate outside the home. Moments later, the 3 in the car were startled
by a gunshot; Brown jumped back in the car. He had shot and killed LaHood.
Kenneth Foster did not kill LaHood; there was no doubt that Brown fired
the fatal shot. Still, the Bexar Co. District Attorney's Office argued
that Foster was criminally liable for the crime under state law because he
"should have anticipated" Brown would kill LaHood. The DA's theory was
that the four intended to rob LaHood and had entered into a conspiracy to
do so. That they didn't intend for LaHood to die was not important because
their behavior (in planning a robbery and in carrying out previous
robberies) was so reckless that they easily could have anticipated the
loss of life. Foster was convicted and sentenced to die for the killing.
Unless the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals grants his final appeal, he
will be executed next month.
To attorney Keith Hampton, executing Foster would be a grave miscarriage
of justice. He says the prosecution's entire case against Foster was built
upon an ambiguous snippet of testimony offered by Julius Steen during
Foster and Brown's 5-day joint trial back in April 1997. (Brown was
executed for the murder last July.) Steen testified at trial that he "kind
of thought" that Brown intended to rob LaHood when he jumped out of the
car to follow the woman, Mary Patrick (LaHood's girlfriend). What Foster's
trial attorneys didn't know, says Hampton, is that Steen didn't actually
mean what prosecutors alleged he meant and what he did mean changes
everything. Before Foster's trial, Steen copped a deal with prosecutors:
In exchange for his testimony in the LaHood case and in another unrelated,
federal capital murder case, he would receive a truncated sentence for
robbery. Steen's attorney refused to let Foster's lawyers interview Steen
before the 1996 trial, so they had no way to effectively cross-examine
Steen's testimony. It wasn't until early 2003 that Hampton finally got a
chance to interview Steen. Steen told him that he didn't think Brown
intended to rob or to kill LaHood; he said there was no conspiracy among
the four men and certainly none between Brown and Foster. Foster, he
said, seemed to be in shock after hearing the gunshot, as did Brown. "When
Brown got back in the car, we were all shocked," Steen wrote in an
affidavit. "Even Brown looked shocked. I don't think that Brown knew why
he shot the man and was surprised [himself] that he did."
Steen told Hampton it wasn't until after Brown left the car and was up at
the top of the LaHood driveway (nearly 90 feet away) that it crossed
Steen's mind Brown might attempt to rob LaHood. It was a fairly stunning
revelation that completely dismantles the prosecution's assertion that
Foster was involved in a "conspiracy" to rob LaHood and, thus, under the
law of parties, criminally liable for his murder. "Steen has now refuted
the inferences that Foster was a party to Brown's murder of LaHood,"
Hampton wrote in Foster's final appeal, filed June 14. "The inferential
theory of an understanding between Foster and Brown to rob LaHood crumbles
with Steen's explanation about his ambiguous and heretofore unexplained"
testimony. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied Foster's first appeal in
2002, before Hampton talked to Steen. So he argues that the court must
revisit the case to consider this new, and previously unavailable,
evidence, which eliminates Foster as a conspirator in a robbery-murder
plot. (Although the prosecution's "conspiracy" theory should implicate
Steen and Dillard making both men eligible for the death penalty, as well
prosecutors never pursued a similar case against either man. Steen cut a
deal, and Dillard was never charged with any crime in connection with the
Hampton notes that in denying Foster's first appeal, the court pointed to
Steen's trial testimony as central to the case: The case against Foster,
the court wrote, "rested largely on [Julius] Steen's testimony as an
accomplice." Now, Hampton says, he finally has the evidence needed to
prove that simply was not the case. "Because this newly-discovered
evidence is the heart of Foster's culpability," Hampton wrote, "any doubt
about the impact of Steen's testimony must be resolved in favor of Foster
in order to avoid the miscarriage of justice which permitting his
execution would create."
At press time, Foster's appeal was still pending before the court.
(source: Austin Chronicle)
High Court Holds Up Panetti Execution
Fredericksburg convicted killer Scott Panetti, 49, has received a reprieve
from his 1995 death sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday
issued a ruling that at least temporarily blocks the execution of the
death row inmate for the 1992 shooting deaths of his wife's parents.
The 5-4 ruling sends the case back to Austin where U.S. District Judge Sam
Sparks must determine if Panettis delusions make him mentally incompetent
to be executed.
Meanwhile, Panetti will remain on death row as the case progresses.
In the court's majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that it is
not enough for inmates to understand that they are to be executed -- as
has been the standard developed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Instead, Kennedy said that a U.S. Constitution restriction against cruel
and unusual punishment -- established in a 1986 court holding -- demands
that inmates also understand why they are to be executed.
Panetti, who has been treated over the years for schizophrenia and
paranoid delusions, claims satanic forces want him executed in order to
silence him from preaching the Gospel rather than for the shooting deaths
of Fredericksburg residents Joe and Amanda Alvarado on the morning of
Sept. 8, 1992, while his estranged wife and toddler daughter watched.
In its ruling, the court said that Panetti was improperly denied the
chance to prove he is mentally unfit for execution.
But, in ordering the district court to reassess Panetti's competence, the
court declined to provide a precise standard for assessing his claims,
leaving that job up to the lower courts.
Ultimately, legal experts speculate that the high court will have to
revisit the case in a future appeal.
Meanwhile, Texas officials have predicted that Thursday's ruling will
invite abuse from capital murderers and, as Texas Solicitor General Ted
Cruz said, "subject the courts to numerous claims of incompetency and even
further delay justice for the victims' families."
Thursdays decision follows a lengthy appeals process that arrived before
the high court in April.
In a 1995 capital murder trial at Kerrville where he acted as his own
attorney, Panetti dressed up in cowboy attire, claiming that he had other
personalities and even subpoenaing the late President John F. Kennedy and
However, the jury rejected his insanity defense and sentenced him to
Panetti had been scheduled to die by lethal injection on Feb. 5, 2004, but
a stay of execution was issued the day before by U.S. District Judge
Sparks for the Western District of Texas, pending an examination to
determine if he was competent to be executed.
Subsequently, Judge Sparks ruled in October of 2004 in Austin that Panetti
was sane enough to be executed but that he could not be put to death until
the next tier of federal courts -- the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals --
addressed the former Fredericksburg resident's challenge.
Subsequently, the 5th Circuit Court's 3-judge panel ruled in May of 2006
that Panetti was sane enough to receive the death sentence.
In that ruling, the panel -- which interprets law for Texas, Louisiana and
Mississippi -- said that mentally ill convicts can be executed as long as
they have a basic understanding of their punishment.
That decision maintained that Panetti did not need to believe he was being
executed for the murders of his estranged wife's parents.
Previously, state and federal appeals courts had found nothing wrong with
Panettis trial, and the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to hear his
In addition, the Texas Attorney General's Office had determined that
Panetti was competent enough to be executed, and the Texas Board of
Pardons and Paroles also voted, 15-1, against a reprieve.
Numerous appeals to have Panetti\'s death sentence commuted to life
imprisonment have also failed.
(source: Fredericksburg Standard)
High court upholds death sentence ---- Execution date on hold while state
The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the capital murder conviction of
Beunka Adams June 27. An Anderson County jury sentenced Mr. Adams to death
Aug. 30, 2004, for the capital murder of Kenneth Vandever, 37, of Rusk.
The case had been transferred from Cherokee County to Anderson County on a
change of venue granted by District Judge Bascom Bentley III. Mr. Adams
was 19 at the time of the murder.
Also, convicted for the murder and sentenced to death was Richard Cobb.
Mr. Cobb's conviction on a direct appeal was affirmed Jan. 31.
The two men are charged with taking Mr. Vandever and 2 females to a pea
field near Alto. The women were shot and wounded and Mr. Vandever shot and
Evidence presented in the court hearings revealed that on the night of the
murder the men entered BDJs convenience store wearing masks and demanding
money. One of them was armed with a shotgun.
After taking the money from the cash register they demanded the keys to a
Cadillac parked outside. The 2 women were employees of the store. Mr.
Adams and Mr. Cobb forced the 3 into the car.
After arriving at the secluded field, 1 female and Mr. Vandever were told
to get into the trunk of the car. The other female was taken away and
sexually assaulted. Both women were wounded.
Still pending in Mr. Adams' case is a ruling on the finding of fact and
conclusions of law in the state's writ of habeas corpus. If the court
denies this relief, then the trial court will set an executive date. At
that point, Mr. Adams can file for a federal writ of habeas corpus.
A writ of habeas corpus is a challenge to the legality of the sentence in
Don Killingsworth and Sten Langsjoen represented Mr. Adams at the trial.
Stephen Evans represented him on direct appeal. Jeff Haas is representing
him in his state writ of habeas corpus appeal.
District Attorney Elmer C. Beckworth Jr. said last week that at the time
of the murder, Mr. Adams had a prior juvenile robbery conviction. Mr. Cobb
had a previous juvenile burglary conviction and a juvenile assault
conviction. He was on adult probation for unauthorized use of a motor
Execution date for both men is expected to be within 3 to 5 years, Mr.
The state was represented by Mr. Beckworth and then Assistant District
Attorney David R. Sorrell. On direct appeal and on the writ of habeas
corpus the state was represented by D.A. Beckworth.
The decision on the direct appeal by 9 members of the Court of Appeals was
(source: The Cherokeean Herald)
The Quality of Bush's Mercy
When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150
executions. In more than 1/3 of the cases "57 in all " lawyers
representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation
of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than
Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during
trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they
committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.
In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences,
saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.
I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be
attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever
for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration,s effort
to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush's
commutation of Mr. Libby's sentence is certainly legal, but it just as
surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.
Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will
spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings
died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.
(source: CounterPunch ---- David R. Dow is a professor at the University
of Houston Law Center who represents death row inmates, including several
who sought commutation from then-Governor Bush)
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