Texas governor to decide condemned killer's fate
The fate of a man facing execution Thursday evening for his role in a
fatal robbery is in the hands of Gov. Rick Perry after the state parole
board recommended that the death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles made the rare recommendation
Wednesday for 34-year-old Robert Lee Thompson, who was not the triggerman
in the fatal shooting of a Houston convenience store clerk. The shooter,
Sammy Butler, was convicted and received life in prison.
Perry is not required to follow the recommendation of the board, whose
members he appoints.
"The governor has received the board's recommendation but has not made a
decision," spokeswoman Allison Castle said Wednesday.
Thompson's lawyer, Patrick McCann, also has an appeal before the U.S.
Supreme Court to stop the lethal injection.
The parole board's 5-2 vote Wednesday came in response to a petition from
McCann, who argued that the case was similar to that of Kenneth Foster,
also convicted and sentenced to die under the law of parties.
Perry 2 years ago commuted Foster's sentence to life. Foster became only
the 2nd inmate since Texas resumed carrying out executions in 1982 who won
a recommendation from the parole board as his execution loomed.
In the 1st case, in 2004, Perry rejected the board's recommendation and
mentally ill prisoner Kelsey Patterson was executed.
Perry's explanation for commuting Foster's sentence was that Foster and
his co-defendant were tried together on capital murder charges for a
slaying in San Antonio. In Thompson's case, he and Butler were tried
separately for the shooting death of 29-year-old Mansoor Bhai Rahim
At least a half dozen other Texas inmates have been executed under the law
Under the law, offenders conspiring to commit 1 felony like robbery can
all be held responsible for another ensuing crime, such as murder.
The U.S. Supreme Court since 1982 has barred the death penalty for
co-conspirators who don't themselves kill. The justices, however, in 1987
made an exception, ruling that the Eighth Amendment didn't prohibit
execution of someone who plays a major role in a felony that results in
murder and whose mental state is one of reckless indifference.
McCann's appeal before the Supreme Court raised questions about the
competence of Thompson's trial lawyers, arguing that jurors who decided
Thompson should be executed never learned of his abusive childhood, an
upbringing by a mentally ill and drug- and alcohol-addicted mother and a
household where he was "raised in and among felons."
Evidence at his trial showed Thompson, who is black, told detectives he
went on a 2-month crime spree in 1996 because God told him to do something
about store clerks who discriminated against blacks.
The killing was 1 of 3 he acknowledged to authorities. In 2 of the
slayings, Thompson told detectives he was the gunman.
(source: Associated Press)
Parole board urges Perry to spare Houston killer
Texas' Board of Pardons and Paroles on Wednesday recommended that Gov.
Rick Perry spare the life of Houston killer Robert Lee Thompson, who is
scheduled to be executed tonight in Huntsville.
A Perry spokeswoman did not indicate when the governor, who has
voluntarily commuted only one death sentence in his tenure as chief
executive, might rule in the case.
Thompson, 34, was sentenced to die in a law-of-parties case stemming from
the December 1996 slaying of clerk Mansoor Rahim during a robbery at a
Braeswood Boulevard convenience store. Thompson's lawyer, Pat McCann,
argued that the fatal shot was fired by his client's accomplice, Sammy
Butler. Under Texas' law of parties, both robbers were eligible for the
death penalty. But Butler, the gunman, was sentenced to life in prison.
The pardon board's action marked the 2nd time in 2 days that Houston
killers received hope of escaping execution.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal granted a 90-day stay to
Gerald Eldridge, 45, who was sentenced to die for the 1993 murder of his
former girlfriend, Cynthia Bogany, and her 9-year-old daughter, Chirrisa.
Eldridge's lawyer argued that the killer might be seriously mentally ill
and incompetent to be executed. Under Texas law, one must understand that
he will be executed and why in order to legally be put to death.
After Wednesday's initial victory before the pardons board, McCann
acknowledged that he was "too scared to be optimistic." Still, he noted
the only time Perry voluntarily commuted a death sentence also involved a
law of parties case.
In August 2007, Perry spared the life of Kenneth Foster, who had been the
driver in a series of San Antonio robberies. Foster was behind the wheel
of the getaway car when one of his accomplices killed a man during an
apparent traffic altercation.
In granting the commutation, Perry cited concerns that Foster and the
triggerman had been tried simultaneously. Foster was 3 hours away from
execution when the governor's action was announced. He will be eligible
for parole in 2037.
The pardons board has recommended only 1 other commutation during Perry's
tenure. In 2004, it suggested Perry commute the sentence of Kelsey
Patterson, who had been sentenced to die for the 1992 murders of 2 people
in Palestine. Perry rejected the board's recommendation. Patterson was
executed in May 2004.
Thompson attorney McCann expressed "guarded optimism" that Perry might
follow the pardons board's recommendation. "He has been receptive to
law-of-parties cases," he said, alluding to the Foster decision.
Although Thompson and Butler were tried sequentially, not at the same
time, McCann opined, "that's just as bad."
Perry has commuted death sentences for those who were minors when they
killed and for the mentally retarded in accordance with U.S. Supreme Court
rulings but remains an outspoken supporter of capital punishment.
In addition to his successful petition to the pardons board, McCann also
filed a final appeal to the Supreme Court.
"It's in the hands of the governor and the court," he said.
Thompson's family was aware of the board's recommendation, but McCann said
he was not able to reach his client on death row.
(source: Houston Chronicle)