Man faces execution for being in car with killer

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The Independent US

A 30-year old man, Kenneth Foster, is set to be executed today for a murder which he not only did not commit, but which the authorities in Texas accept was carried out by another man in 1996.

The trial judge, the prosecutor, and the jury that sentenced Mr Foster to die admit that he did not murder the victim Michael LaHood. But, under a controversial "law of parties", in Texas an associate of a perpetrator can be found co-responsible in a capital case. The law imposes the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred.

This is how Foster, a black man out on a crime spree with some friends, came to be convicted of murdering Mr LaHood, a white man and the son of a prominent lawyer . The killer, Mauriceo Brown, was executed last year.

Foster has been politically active on death row. He has organised fellow prisoners, becoming a leader in the anti-death penalty movement in Texas and starting a non-violent movement called Drive, to campaign over conditions on death row. Unlike most other inmates he had several years of college education before jail.

On the night of the murder, Foster and several friends had been driving around drinking and committing robberies. On the way home, Brown left the car to talk to a woman. He then got into an altercation with Mr LaHood and shot him dead in the driveway of his house in San Antonio.

The murder occurred as Foster was sitting in a car some 30 metres away with three other passengers – but prosecutors said there was a conspiracy to commit the crime and therefore he deserved a death sentence. Since Foster's original trial, the other passengers – none of whom was tried under the law of parties – have testified that Foster had no idea a shooting was going to take place.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Foster's final appeal on Tuesday and his last recourse is a pardon from Texas Governor Rick Perry. This seems unlikely, as five of the seven Board of Pardons members must recommend clemency first. Last week Texas executed its 400th prisoner since it resumed capital punishment in 1982.

Recently a friend of the victim has described the pending execution as vengeance and called for it to be halted. The LaHood family has so far not offered support to Foster's case. LaHood's mother said she supported the execution of the actual killer.