CRIMINAL JUSTICE—-Veto threat dooms change in death penalty law; Measure
banning execution of people who haven't killed won't advance.
Death penalty opponents have long decried a Texas law that allows the
state to impose the ultimate punishment – execution – on people who have
not killed anyone.
Legislation to change that was working its way toward Gov. Rick Perry's
desk Thursday, when its sponsor said a threatened veto forced him to drop
the controversial provision that would have exempted participants in
capital crimes who did not pull the trigger.
"We wanted that provision to stay in, but the governor's office made it
clear they would veto the bill if that went through," said state Sen. Juan
"Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
Hinojosa amended the legislation to require only separate trials for
co-defendants in capital murder cases in which one or more of the
defendants did not kill anyone.
Though he was not satisfied with the change, Hinojosa said, "we're not
going to get any progress on this area of law until we get another
governor. I realize that, so we do what we can."
Perry's office did not return phone calls Thursday evening.
Austin lawyer William "Rusty" Hubbarth, vice president of Justice for All,
a national victim advocacy group based in Houston, applauded the veto
"I congratulate Gov. Perry for showing he has the courage to protect the
interests of victims," Hubbarth said.
The problem with the bill, he said, was letting all capital co-defendants
off the hook if they didn't pull a trigger.
As proof, he cited a 1992 case in which a husband hired a hit man through
Soldier of Fortune magazine to kill his wife; the husband was convicted of
premeditated murder and sentenced to death.
As approved by the House last week, the bill would have made a significant
change in the state's death-penalty law, a change vehemently opposed by
prosecutors and cheered by death-penalty opponents.
Under current law, multiple defendants in a capital murder case can face
execution, even though not all caused a death.
Texas has been criticized nationally in past years for cases in which the
triggerman cut a deal with police and escaped execution, while a
co-defendant who did not kill anyone was executed.
Although other states also hold accomplices responsible for others' crimes
under the so-called law of parties, few of those states have a death
None executes as many people as Texas, which has put to death more than
400 people since the state resumed executions in 1982.
Prosecutors in the past have argued that if defendants participate in a
crime, even if they stood and watched an accomplice commit murder, they
should be held equally accountable – and several have been sentenced to
After the disputed wording was deleted Thursday, the bill was passed
unanimously by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the last stop before
the measure goes to the full Senate for a vote.
When the measure passed the House on May 15, its sponsors tagged it the
"Kenneth Foster Jr. Act," after a man whose death sentence was commuted to
life imprisonment by Perry in 2007.
A former member of a San Antonio crime gang, Foster was sentenced to die
as an accessory to the Aug. 25, 1996, slaying of Michael LaHood Jr., a
25-year-old law school student who was gunned down during a botched
Foster, then 19, drove the getaway car, which was parked 80 feet away.
Foster's impending execution had drawn a flood of protests from around the
world, with South African peace activist Desmond Tutu and former President
Jimmy Carter among the hundreds who filed written protests to stop the
execution – all arguing that Texas was taking the life of a man who had
not killed anyone.
In commuting the sentence, Perry noted that Foster was tried, convicted
and sentenced alongside the triggerman, Mauriceo Brown. Perry said that
could have tainted the jury's decision.
"After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the
recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right
and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence," Perry said at the
time. "I am concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder
defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the
Legislature should examine."
(source: Austin American-Statesman)