death penalty news—-TEXAS

Feb. 25


3 Texas death row inmates lose appeals

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday rejected appeals from
three condemned prisoners, including a pair sent to death row for slayings
that were part of a Houston crime spree.

The state's highest criminal court refused appeals in the cases of Walter
Sorto, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, and Edgardo Cubas, who's
from Honduras, who were tried separately and convicted of capital murder
in the 2002 deaths 2 Houston waitresses. Marina Moreno Rangel, 38, and
Roxana Aracelle Capulin, 24., were abducted as they left work, then raped
and shot. Their bodies, with duct tape covering their eyes and mouths,
were found the next day in an abandoned vehicle.

The women were among numerous victims of robbery, assault, rape and murder
attributed to Sorto, Cubas and a third male who was 15 at the time of his
arrest. He was tried as an adult but was ineligible for the death penalty
because of his age.

The crimes from late 2001 to the spring of 2002 had frightened residents
of a predominantly Hispanic area of Houston known as the East End.

Police arrested the 3 after Sorto tried to claim a nonexistent reward for
providing information about the 2 women's slayings.

Neither Sorto, 31, convicted in 2003, nor Cubas, 30, condemned in 2004,
has an execution date. They can take their appeals yet to the federal

In the 3rd rejection from the Court of Criminal Appeals Wednesday, the
judges refused an appeal from Edward Lee Busby Jr., condemned for the 2004
suffocation of 77-year-old retired TCU professor Laura Lee Crane. The
woman was abducted from a Fort Worth grocery store parking lot.

Busby, 36, was arrested in Oklahoma City driving Crane's car. He later led
authorities to her body in Murray County in Oklahoma, just north of the
Texas state line. Evidence showed the woman suffocated after her face was
wrapped with more than 23 feet of duct tape.


Appeals judge Keller gets more time

A state criminal appeals judge has been given more time to respond to
misconduct charges alleging she improperly cut off appeals for a condemned
inmate the night of his execution.

Sharon Keller, the presiding judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,
could be removed from office under the charges brought by the Texas
Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The charges were filed last week and Keller originally had 15 days to
respond. She asked for extra time and now has until March 24, said Seana
Willing, executive director of the commission.

The commission says Keller refused to keep the court offices open after 5
p.m. on Sept. 25, 2007, when attorneys for Michael Richard asked for an
extension to file an appeal. Richard was executed later that night.

(source for both: Associated Press)


Legislator proposes bill to halt the death penalty for those in murderers'
company—-Representative hopes proposal will eventually end capital

Lawrence Foster listens to his son, Kenneth Foster Sr., talk at the
capitol Tuesday morning about his grandson, Kenneth Foster Jr., who was
sentenced to the death penalty under the Law of Parties. On August 30,
2007, Gov. Rick Perry commited death row inmate Kenneth Foster Jr. to life
imprisonment. Foster had been on death row for 10 years for the August
1996 murder of Michael LaHood Jr., a crime he did not commit.

"I don't think he should be there now,' said his father, Kenneth Foster
Sr. "He should be out here with his family."

Foster was charged with the murder under the Texas Law of Parties, which
convicts anyone in the murderer's party as if he or she had committed the

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, presented a bill Tuesday that would end
death penalty sentences under the Law of Parties.

Foster's grandfather, Lawrence Foster, said his grandson had no intent to
commit murder and no idea that his friend, Mauricio Brown, had intended to
murder LaHood.

While driving with 2 other friends, Brown spotted LaHood's girlfriend and
asked Foster to stop the car. Despite Foster's best efforts, Brown left
the car and approached the woman. At some point in the conversation,
LaHood approached the two and during a fight, Brown drew a firearm and
killed LaHood.

Foster's grandfather said his grandson did not know Brown was carrying a
gun and that he did not see the shot fired.

The other 2 men in the vehicle, Dwayne Dillard and Julius Steen, faced
lighter sentences, because they assisted police in the investigation of
Foster and Brown.

"The court said he should have anticipated what he was going to do,"
Lawrence said. "But can you anticipate what I'm going to do when I leave
here today?"

Dutton said there have been at least 12 people executed under the Law of
Parties and possibly as many as 20. He said he has seen cases in which a
convicted murderer had been released from prison while members of his
party were still on death row.

25 other states have the Law of Parties, but Texas is the only state that
allows the death penalty for defendants convicted under the Law of

"Nobody knows that you could just be along for the ride and be executed by
the death penalty," Dutton said. "Today, we're asking the whole
Legislature to do what they did for Kenneth Foster."

Dutton said that legislation has passed each session since he became a
representative in 1985 that narrowed laws involving the death penalty in
Texas. Dutton said that he hopes the death penalty will be abolished in
Texas in the future and he believes the state has turned the corner.

"People are starting to understand the difference between factually
innocent and legally guilty," he said. "Just because a jury found them
guilty and they were arrested for a crime didn't mean they did anything."

Dutton said there are many other problems with the death penalty in Texas,
including poor crime labs, prosecutors who withhold evidence and
inadequate judges.

"These are problems that beg people to get involved," he said.

(source: The Daily Texan)