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As Kenneth Foster's execution date nears...
Looking to the struggle ahead

August 31, 2007 | Pages 4 and 5

HE NEVER killed anyone. But Kenneth Foster Jr. faces an execution date of August 30 in the state of Texas--for no greater crime than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As Socialist Worker went to press, Kenneth and his supporters were fighting down to the last minute, asking Texas Gov. Rick Perry for clemency. BRYAN McCANN, a leading activist in the fight for Kenneth and a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, answered SW's questions about the Texas execution machine--and the struggle to stop it from killing again.

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WHY DOES the state of Texas want to execute Kenneth Foster?

THE MOST peculiar thing about Kenneth's case is that the state of Texas and his supporters agree on most of the facts. The state knows that Kenneth didn't kill Michael LaHood, and it has already executed Mauriceo Brown, the man who did.

What you can do

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.

 

Rather, Kenneth is facing the death chamber because of the "Law of Parties," a Texas law that betrays the cynical and barbaric political character of the death penalty.

The Law of Parties makes it possible for the state to target individuals for prosecution based on the actions of another. Because Kenneth was present, 80 feet away, when Brown shot and killed Michael LaHood, the state was able to try him alongside Mauriceo as if he pulled the trigger.

Since two armed robberies had taken place that evening (none of which Kenneth left the car for), the state argued Kenneth should have anticipated that Brown would try to rob LaHood when he exited the car one last time that evening. They then claimed that since a robbery could conceivably end in a murder, Kenneth should have also anticipated the shooting.

Kenneth, in other words, is on death row for not being psychic.

The Law of Parties epitomizes how strategic and underhanded prosecutors in Texas and elsewhere are in their application of the death penalty. It's not about protecting citizens from the "worst of the worst." It's about optimizing convictions and gaining political points.

The Law of Parties--which allows prosecutors to broker plea agreements and turn defendants against each other, as they did with the other men in the car with Kenneth and Mauriceo that evening--is a telling example of this.

CAN YOU talk about how Kenneth's case is related to the other injustices of the Texas death penalty?

TEXAS EXECUTES more inmates than any state in the country. On August 22, Johnny Conner, a friend of Kenneth's, became the 400th fatality of the Texas death machine since the state reinstituted capital punishment in 1982. No other state comes close to these numbers. There is a sickening race to execute here in Texas.

Kenneth's lawyers have told me that there are about 12 Law of Parties cases on Texas' death row. One is Rudy Medrana, a man who is on death row for giving guns to several friends, who then used them to commit a murder. He wasn't even at the scene of the crime, and he's still facing the death chamber. The Law of Parties is proof positive that Texas isn't interested in justice, just convictions.

The racial and class components of Kenneth's case are also typical of how the system works in Texas. Kenneth was 19 at the time of the LaHood murder and relied on a court-appointed attorney at trial. The death penalty disproportionately targets racial minorities and those unable to afford competent counsel.

KENNETH HAS said that if he is denied clemency and all further appeals, he won't cooperate with the process of putting him to death. Can you talk about this, and about the DRIVE Movement of Texas death row prisoners that Kenneth helped to found?

YOU CAN'T overstate the role that DRIVE and Kenneth have had on the political climate on Texas' death row.

Housed in Livingston, Texas death row is the most repressive in the nation. Inmates live in 22-hour administrative segregation, aren't allowed contact visits with loved ones, have no group recreation or religious services, and experience sub-standard food service and health care. It's an environment specifically designed to dehumanize and break the spirit.

Nonetheless, Kenneth, along with comrades like Rob Will and Gabriel Gonzales, have organized under the most difficult circumstances to stage peaceful, nonviolent protests against these awful conditions. They have also inspired many facing execution dates to stage protests--by refusing food and going limp when guards come to take them to the death chamber.

Kenneth is currently on a hunger strike, and he will make them carry him to the gurney if it comes to that. He refuses to allow Texas to make the process of killing him appear humane.

HAS KENNETH talked about how he views this struggle, and what's ahead?

I HAD the honor of visiting Kenneth for the first time last week and we spent most of our time together talking about the future.

He, like the rest of us, is in this to win and is pushing forward in that spirit. We all agree that having his sentence commuted to life in prison would be a victory, but nothing we would settle for. Kenneth should be home with his family, not wasting away after spending 10 years on the worst death row in the country.

Kenneth is also very interested in targeting the Law of Parties more broadly. He was the one who told me about Rudy Medrana's case, and he's very interested in seeing us organize around it. He's also continually complimentary about the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the ISO for their roles in the fight for his life.

He has a brilliant political mind and believes that an effective abolition movement must be guided by the right kind of vision and analysis.

The Save Kenneth Foster Campaign in general sees the need for struggle beyond August 30. The visibility of Kenneth's case has energized the anti-death penalty movement in an unprecedented way. We have spent the entire summer giving the state of Texas, particularly Gov. Perry, every reason to do the right thing.

If he listens, we know we can win and will go forth with greater confidence in our movement. If he doesn't, the outrage that decision sparks will fuel the abolitionist movement to avenge Kenneth and continue the fight for other inmates, like Rodney Reed, Luis Castro Perez, Michael Scott and Rudy Medrana.

The national trend is undoubtedly against the death penalty. Texas, in many regards, is the exception to this rule, but it's by no means immune to this new political climate. In a number of ways, Kenneth's case is the death penalty laid bare. The fact that he shot no one and still faces lethal injection gives the lie to everything told about the death penalty.

Texas' status as the "belly of the beast" of capital punishment has no doubt helped make Kenneth's case all the more infuriating. The Houston crime lab scandal has also helped raise doubts about capital punishment. Furthermore, Texas continues to lose high-profile cases before the Supreme Court. Most recently, the justices threw out the death sentence of Scott Panetti, a schizophrenic man sentenced to death.

The Save Kenneth Foster Campaign, in particular, has drawn a number of individuals to activism who might otherwise never have attended a rally, press conference or organizing meeting. As we fight for Kenneth, we're also training activists and strengthening the fight for all those sentenced to die by this backward system.

The visibility and strength of this movement has taught us what is possible and offers a model for the continued struggle against state killing in Texas and elsewhere.

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