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Kenneth Foster didn't killed anyone...
So why does Texas want to kill him?

August 24, 2007 | Page 5

MARLENE MARTIN, the national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), writes on the struggle to save Kenneth Foster Jr. from the Texas execution machine.

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WHY DOES the state of Texas so badly want to kill a man who never killed anyone?

Even prosecutors admit that Kenneth Foster Jr. didn't pull the trigger on the night in August 1996 when Michael LaHood Jr. was shot and killed. But if Texas has its way, he will be executed anyway on August 30.

Under its "Law of Parties," the state claims that Kenneth should be put to death because he could have anticipated that Michael LaHood would be killed when Mauriceo Brown got out of the car Kenneth was driving and approached LaHood. Kenneth was still in the car, 80 feet away, with two other men, when the crime took place. Brown was executed last year.

So Kenneth is facing his own death in a matter of days because he couldn't read someone's mind. That's the essence of it.

What else to read

Call on Gov. Rick Perry to grant clemency for Kenneth Foster. Call 800-252-9600 (Texas callers) or 512-463-1782 (Austin and out of state), and send faxes to 512-463-1849.

For more information on what you can do to help Kenneth, and on and the struggle of Texas death row prisoners against executions and rotten conditions, see the Free Kenneth Foster and DRIVE Movement Web sites.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty Web site has information on many cases, including Kenneth's--and on how you can get involved in the struggle against capital punishment.

Donations to the Save Kenneth Foster campaign can be made by sending checks or money orders (to the account "To Save Kenneth Foster," no. 831766.1) to: Velocity Credit Union, P.O. Box 1089, Austin, TX 78767-9947.

 

In 2005, a federal judge, Royal Ferguson, recognized the injustice of Kenneth being condemned under the Law of Parties, and overturned his death sentence on the grounds that there was no evidence he had major involvement in the murder, nor knew one was about to take place. But that decision was overruled by a higher federal court.

Now, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected Kenneth's final legal appeal--even though it included an affidavit from Julius Steen, one of the other men in the car and the prosecution's star witness in Kenneth's trial, restating that Kenneth had no idea Brown planned to harm LaHood.

No doubt, one major reason why Texas doesn't want to reverse Kenneth's death sentence is that this would shine a spotlight on the Law of Parties--and put other convictions in jeopardy.

As CEDP member Liliana Segura wrote about the law on the Common Dreams Web site, "[I]ts clear effect has been to broaden the pool of defendants eligible for death. By inviting a jury to speculate whether a defendant 'should have known' a murder could happen, it drastically lowers the burden of proof for a punishment supposedly reserved for 'the worst of the worst.'"

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SO NOW what? Will the state of Texas draw up the poison and kill Kenneth?

As Sandra Reed, the mother of another Texas death row prisoner, Rodney Reed, told me: "We just have to keep up what we're doing--marching in the street, speaking out, writing letters, making our voices heard. We just can't stop. I just know the only reason we got a favorable ruling from the court in Rodney's case is because of all the pressure we've created. We have to fight like we're going to win."

Organized around the Save Kenneth Foster Campaign, led by Kenneth's family and friends, anti-death penalty activists have been working all out to bring attention to this case, with much success. Media outlets have reported favorably about Kenneth, and a letter-writing campaign to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is underway--the board says it will make a decision about recommending clemency by August 28.

Kenneth himself--who while on death row has become an activist, writer and poet--knows full well what he is up against. "As I formulate these words, I have no idea if I'll be physically alive at the end of this month," he wrote in a letter to me. "Having gotten word of recent denials of final appeals, I am on a head-on crash course with the Texas killing machine gurney.

"Nevertheless, I find the same flare in my spirit as before--my fingers and mind still moving with the tempo of the fight in the streets. I've already declared that where there is love and struggle, there is no death. As long as we live out our personal legends, then who we are persist. Therefore, I falter not, even being within the grasp of imperialist claws!"

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KENNETH HAS many of the hallmarks of injustice typical of the Texas death penalty system.

He was just 19 when he was arrested. Kenneth is Black, and the victim was white. His inexperienced lawyer lost all three capital cases she tried, and her clients went to death row. Kenneth was put on trial with Brown, the shooter, as his codefendant. The state withheld evidence. Witnesses testified after making plea deals with prosecutors.

This is why Texas has been ground zero of America's execution machine since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Texas has accounted for more than one-third of all executions nationwide in the last three decades--so far this year, it is responsible for about two-thirds of people put to death.

As the state reaches another grim milestone of 400 people executed, Gov. Rick Perry has now earned the notorious distinction of outpacing the Texacutioner, George Bush, with 159 executions occurring on his watch, compared to Bush's 152.

During the days of lynching, people would gather around to jeer as the Black victim was hung from a tree. This is now seen as repugnant. We find it so because people fought back--against Jim Crow justice, against segregation, against racist violence and apartheid-like conditions in the South.

But the truth is that lynchings were driven inside--into the cozy confines of the courtroom. This sanitized arena shouldn't be allowed to conceal the mission of the death penalty--to kill the innocent, the destitute and disproportionately minorities.

From inside prison walls, Kenneth has been a leader of the struggle against legal lynching. He co-founded the DRIVE (Death Row Inner-communalist Vanguard Engagement) Movement to stage nonviolent protests on death row to call attention to miserable conditions--locked up 22 hours a day, no TVs, no recreation, one five-minute phone call every six months, no work or learning opportunities. People describe it as living in a tomb.

"The struggle has meant everything to me," Kenneth wrote. "When I came into this state of consciousness, I found that next to my most beloved family members, I had never loved anything this much. It became something that excited me, motivated me, and something that I even yearned for.

"When we (myself, Rob Will, Gabriel Gonzales and Reginald Blanton) created and initiated the DRIVE movement, I felt like I was coming to a home that I had long left. We are all made to be something; some of us will be doctors, some will be architects, others athletes or scientists. And then some of us are made to be activists and artists. After all, what would the world be like without art or drum beats or SLAM-type poets? I'd think very dull.

"I looked at my 11-year-old daughter not long ago and asked her, 'Do you know what "No struggle, no progress" means?' A young activist in the making, she squinted her face for a second, and then said, 'I think it means that if you don't work, you don't get anything done.' I could only smile.

"I've always said that struggle means conscious organizing and mobilization! Organizing is putting it all together in a strategic and efficient fashion. You got the keys in your hands. Mobilizing is like turning the ignition. Struggle means we got our foot on the gas, and we're not letting up until we reach our destination!"

Kenneth has vowed to fight until there is no breath left in him. We should match his vow--and fight on for justice!

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