Thursday, August 02, 2007

'I shouldn't have to abandon my humanity, my dignity'

Thats the title of Bob Ray Sander's second column in Fort Worth Star-Telegram. What started with a group of dedicated activists and a rally in Austin is growing into a national movement as mainstream media picks up his case and local editorial boards take stands. The Board of Pardons and Parole is definitely taking notice and hopefully will recommend governor Perry to commute Kenneth Foster's sentence to life in prison.

Kenneth Foster Jr. has an appointment he hopes not to keep.

He is scheduled to die Aug. 30 in the Texas prison system's death chamber.

If it comes to that, Foster says he is ready. But as I pointed out in Sunday's column, Foster never should have gotten the death penalty in the murder of Michael LaHood of San Antonio.

In fact, Mauriceo Brown, the man who killed LaHood in 1996, was executed a year ago for the crime.

Foster and two other people were with Brown most of the evening that LaHood was killed, but all the evidence -- including Brown's testimony at trial -- clearly shows that neither Foster nor the other men knew about, planned, participated in or anticipated Brown's act.

But under Texas' "law of parties," and partly because Foster was tried along with Brown, he was convicted and given a death sentence.

Although a federal judge overturned that sentence, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.

Foster does not deserve to die, and he and others are fighting to stop the execution through more appeals to the courts, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and directly to the governor's office.

As promised Sunday, I want to share some of Foster's thoughts on his scheduled execution, Texas' Death Row, and the victim and his family.

"I got a strong heart. I got a strong heart," Foster told me on a recent visit to Death Row. "I don't have any fear toward death. If we have to walk that path, then I'll walk it."

He added, "If they do murder me -- and it will be murder -- then I'm prepared."

Foster has become active in fighting for inmates' rights on Death Row, and like another former inmate we knew -- Gary Graham, executed in 2000 while still maintaining his innocence -- he said he doesn't plan to go to his death quietly after "eating nine cheeseburgers that you can't digest."

He stated emphatically: "I won't be walking. I won't have no last meal. If they want me executed, they are going to have to throw me on that gurney.

"It's genocide. Covert genocide. They are approaching 400 murders here."

Texas has executed 398 people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1974.

In reference to LaHood, Foster said: "I've been accused of not reaching out to the victim's family. We never wanted the family to feel we were indifferent to their loss. I pray for that family. They don't know.

"I thought it would be rude to them for me to write a letter ... My father wrote to them, and a friend of the family's wrote them."

He noted that he's been getting a lot of hate mail (from people sympathetic to the LaHood family) on a Web site set up by his supporters, yet he continuously thinks about the people whom the victim left behind.

"If they want atonement, I can give them atonement," he said. "If they want vengeance, I can't help them.

"I have a lot of respect for that family .... I've repeated to my supporters to keep the victim in mind."

Foster, whose 11-year-old daughter was only 8 months old when he was charged with this crime, said his child comes to Texas from California once a month to visit him.

"She's a soldier," he said of his daughter.

As for his experience on the nation's busiest Death Row, he said: "There's something ugly and beautiful about Death Row. It's ugly what we have to go through here. It's a beautiful process with what you go through spiritually and emotionally."

He vowed that no matter what happens, there are some things to which he simply will not succumb.

"I can't surrender my humanity," he said. "Yeah, I made a mistake; let me correct it. I shouldn't have to abandon my humanity, my dignity."

Humanity should compel us to try to save this innocent man's life.


Contact the governor's office or the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to object to the execution of Kenneth Foster Jr.

Gov. Rick Perry

Mail: State Capitol, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, TX 78711-2428

Telephone: 512-463-2000

Fax: 512-463-1849

E-mail: Use the form at

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

Mail: P.O. Box 13401, Capitol Station, Austin, TX 78711

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

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