Monday, July 30, 2007

Welfare Poets for Kenneth Foster

The following is another music video by Welfare Poets who traveled all the way from New York to Texas in order to perform at the Rodney Reed rally last weekend. Welfare Poets are a collective of activists, educators, and artists together since 1990. Through teaching residencies and workshops, through activism around community struggles and through sharp-edged performances of music that incorporates Hip Hop, Bomba y Plena, Latin Jazz and other rhythms.

Kenneth Haramia Foster along with Tony Egbuna Ford, Randy Arroyo and the late Hasan Shakur (executed unjustly by the state of Texas on August 31st 2006) contacted the Welfare Poets in 2004 and asked for our assistance in their individual cases and with abolishing the death penalty in general. These four brothers have been movers and shakers on death row. They are all artists, writers, thinkers and organizers on behind the walls who have fought to change things not only for themselves but for everyone else who yearn for true justice. The initial contact has led to the creation of a Hip Hop CD against the death penalty "Cruel and Unusual Punishment." The album was officially released Feb. 1st 2007, and on this past May 1st 2007, the news came down regarding Kenneth's execution date.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

25000 visitors and counting...

During the last 48 hours or so, Texas Death Penalty blog received its 25,000th visitor! In order to celebrate this milestone, in the next few weeks we will add some new student bloggers.
Thanks to all visitors.

Wait, btw we survived the stock market crash last week. The numbers are in and we are doing great.

Share Price Graph for Texas Students Against the Death Penalty
Click on image for larger version

28 Jul 2007 B$260.32
29 May 2007 B$265.19

An appointment with death despite the evidence

Thats the title of an opinion piece by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer, Bob Ray Sanders against the execution of Kenneth Foster.

Another trip to Death Row.

Another man scheduled to die on the gurney in Texas' infamous killing chamber.

Another human being who does not deserve this tragic fate.

And another case that speaks to the absurdity of how capital punishment is applied in general throughout this country, but particularly in the Lone Star State.

The case of Kenneth Foster Jr., scheduled to die next month for a 1996 murder in San Antonio, is further proof of how cruel, capricious, unjust and utterly insane our death penalty laws have become.

Because of this tainted system, whether you believe in capital punishment or not, a man who did not plan or commit a murder will die Aug. 30 unless somebody -- a judge, the Board of Pardons and Paroles and/or the governor -- has the heart and the guts to stop it.

On Aug. 14, 1996, Foster -- who was 19 at the time -- was driving around with two guys he recently had met, Dewayne Dillard and Julius Steen. They were in a car that had been rented by Foster's grandfather, the man who basically had raised him since he was in the fourth grade because "my mother and father ran the streets," he said.

According to Steen's testimony, they were "just goofing off, more or less, and smoking some weed" when they decided to pick up a fourth person, Mauriceo Brown, who rode with them into the night.

Testimony showed that at some point, Brown announced that because they had a gun, they ought to "jack" someone.

With Foster as the driver, Steen and Brown first got out of the car and robbed a Hispanic woman at gunpoint and later robbed a man and two women in a parking lot.

On their way home, they came off the freeway and ended up in a residential neighborhood and saw, according to court documents, "a scantily-clad woman, Mary Patrick, who approached them and demanded to know why they were following her."

As it turned out, Patrick had been following her friend Michael LaHood to his home, and the car driven by Foster was right behind their two cars until they came to a dead end and turned around.

After seeing Patrick standing at the edge of the driveway, they assumed there was a party going on. They stopped and chatted with her for a few seconds, when she started cursing Steen and accusing the group of following her.

Foster put his foot on the gas and prepared to leave, he said, knowing he needed to get the car back to his grandfather. But Brown jumped out of the car, he said, went up the steep driveway and started talking to LaHood, who was more than 80 feet away from the car.

He said he heard a "pop," and when Brown got back to the car, "We're asking -- everybody's asking -- what went down? What happened?"

Brown had shot LaHood.

Shortly afterward, the four men would be arrested and later charged with capital murder.

Dillard and Steen were never made available to Foster's attorney while the district attorney held other cases over them. The district attorney chose to try Foster and Brown together, and the judge refused to sever the cases.

Foster was convicted along with Brown under the Texas "law of parties," even though he never participated in, intended for or anticipated a murder.

Prosecutors, with the help of testimony from Steen, made jurors believe that Foster had conspired in the killing and should have anticipated it.

"[Foster] was a victim of a statute that was never intended by its authors to be used this way," said Austin attorney Keith S. Hampton, who recently filed a second application for a writ of habeas corpus with the district court in San Antonio and an application for commutation of sentence with the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

"I talked to the authors, and they intended [the statute] to be used in conspiracy cases," Hampton said.

Steen has since said that he was pressured by the prosecutors to give the trial testimony and has signed an affidavit clarifying that he did not intend to imply that Foster was aware of what Brown was about to do. Brown himself testified that neither Foster nor the others had planned a robbery or a shooting of LaHood, nor did they know what he was doing.

At least one of the jurors has said in an affidavit "that he would have given a different verdict if he had known that Kenneth Foster did not anticipate that Brown would take the gun when he got out of the car, did not anticipate Brown would shoot LaHood, or that he tried to drive away when he heard the shot," according to court documents.

Federal District Judge Royal Furgeson of San Antonio overturned Foster's death sentence in 2005, saying:

"There was no evidence before Foster's sentencing jury which would have supported a finding that Foster either actually killed LaHood or that Foster intended to kill LaHood or another person. Therein lays the fundamental constitutional defect in Foster's sentence .... Therefore, Foster's death sentence is not supported by the necessary factual finding mandated [by the U.S. Supreme Court] and, for that reason, cannot withstand Eighth Amendment scrutiny."

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. Last spring, the U.S. Supreme Court, which was considering three other Texas death penalty cases at the time, did not take Foster's appeal.

Thus, the subsequent writ application and request for commutation have been filed in an effort to save Foster's life. His supporters also have been writing to the governor and the pardons and paroles board.

"I've never tried to portray myself as an angel," Foster told me on a recent visit to Death Row. "I take responsibility. I was a follower. I was a fool for being there."

He added: "We're not saying I never did anything wrong; for this case, I did nothing wrong. I didn't conspire, I didn't participate, and I didn't plan."

Mauriceo Brown was executed for this crime on July 19, 2006. Foster's execution is set for Aug. 30.

Steen pleaded guilty to two capital murder cases and received a sentence of 35 years to life, and Dillard was given a life sentence.

Does Foster deserve a more severe sentence than Steen and Dillard?


Texas has become the "capital" in "capital punishment," and it is time for us to put an end to the madness.

We can start by making sure this one innocent man's life is spared.

NOTE: In Wednesday's column, I'll tell you more about my conversation with Foster -- his views on dying, Death Row and his feelings for the victim and his family.
Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-777

Friday, July 27, 2007

Backward Texas law may make man pay with life for deed he didn't do

Thats the title of Austin American-Statesman's editorial against execution of Kenneth Foster.

Kenneth Foster didn't commit murder. But that won't stop the State of Texas from executing the Austin native Aug. 30.

It was Mauriceo Brown who shot and killed Michael LaHood in San Antonio 12 years ago — not Foster. Even the prosecution agrees that Foster was 85 feet away from the murder scene. But because of the Texas Law of Parties, that simply does not matter.

Under the 33-year-old law of parties, a person can be held responsible for a crime committed by someone else. According to the law, Foster "should have anticipated" that Brown would commit murder.

Though the law has its supporters, the application in the Foster case highlights flaws.

Only a few states have a law of parties as severe as Texas and no other state applies it as frequently to capital murder cases as Texas. About 80 inmates are on death row awaiting execution under the law of parties. They may not have done the actual killing, but they were along for the ride.

In a case similar to Foster's, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment "does not allow the death penalty for a person who is a minor participant in a felony and does not kill, attempt to kill, or intend to kill."

New testimony shows Foster didn't play a major role in the shooting that took the life of LaHood on Aug. 14, 1996.

In the original trial, Foster's court-appointed lawyer failed to bring up key points that might have vindicated Foster. The same lawyer submitted a 20-page appellate brief in the Foster case — laughably short for a death penalty case. The lawyer also failed to pursue key testimony.

When Keith Hampton, an Austin lawyer skilled in criminal appellate work, took over Foster's case, he remembers thinking, "Wait a minute, this guy is on death row?" He uncovered new testimony that ultimately won a stay in Foster's case. Unfortunately, the ruling was overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Foster was no angel. He and three other men in the car — Brown, Julius Steen and Dwayne Dillard — had committed two armed robberies earlier that night. But the new testimony from Steen and Dillard shows that the men had no role in planning or carrying out a murder.

According to Steen and Dillard, Foster repeatedly pleaded with them and Brown, while in the car, to return home before they encountered LaHood. He also tried to drive away when he heard the gunshots, but Steen and Dillard made him stop and wait for Brown, who was executed for his part in the crime last year.

With a month left until Foster's scheduled execution, his supporters are left with two options: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must rule in favor of Foster, or the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles must recommend commuting Foster's sentence. If the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends commutation, Gov. Rick Perry decides Foster's fate.

Considering Perry's track record on commuting executions, it is unlikely that Perry will decide in favor of Foster, even though he should.

Neither the governor nor the Court of Criminal Appeals should allow the state to execute a man for a crime someone else committed. Foster should be punished for his part in the robberies. But the state shouldn't take his life for failing to anticipate that his friend would commit murder.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Video: Free Kenneth Foster Rally

Free Kenneth Foster Rally
July 21, 2007
Austin, Texas

It Came From Austin !!!!

Benefit July 28 in Austin
WHO: Texas Moratorium Network
WHAT: "It Came From Austin!!!!" - A Benefit for the 8th annual march to stop executions and the Save Kenneth Foster Campaign
WHEN: Saturday July 28, 2007 - 8:00 PM
WHERE: The Scoot Inn, 1308 E. 4th, Austin TX 78702
ADMISSION: $5-$10 sliding scale, 21+

Death Row Blues by Darby Tillis

Darby Tillis and Perry Cobb, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for a 1977 Chicago murder, were tried five times before being exonerated in 1987. The first two trials ended in hung juries, but the third resulted in convictions and death sentences. After a reversal by the Illinois Supreme Court on technical grounds, they were tried two more times before being acquitted in 1987.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Video: Mario Africa of Move - Kenneth Foster Rally

Nydesha Foster

The following is a great essay read by Nydesha Foster, daughter of death-row inmate Kenneth Foster. Nydesha is only 11 years old.

Hundreds march for Kenneth Foster

Hundreds of Texans marched down the Congress Avenue and later at the Governor's Manssion last Saturday calling on Gov. Rick Perry to stop execution of Kenneth Foster. As Scott Cobb of TMN mentioned, "The rally for Kenneth Foster last Saturday was probably the best, most well-attended, high energy protest of a pending execution in Texas since the Gary Graham protests back in 2000." The event received coverage on Democracy Now, KXAN, News 8 Austin and The Daily Texan. I will have some video clips from the rally by tomorrow.

Also last Sunday San Antonio Express-News published an OpEd by Prof.
Roger C. Barnes of the Incarnate Word University.

Further, for 15 straight years, murder rates have run higher in death penalty states than in states without it. This system doesn't function as promised.

And there is growing evidence that people are starting to catch on.

First, a national Gallup Poll now reports that overall support for the death penalty has slipped from 80 percent in 1994 to 67 percent in 2006.

And, when given a choice between life without parole and the death penalty for murder, 48 percent now favor life without parole, compared to 47 percent for those who favor death.

Second, some newspapers are reversing their longstanding support for the death penalty. The Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News and Birmingham News are calling for the abolition of the death penalty.

Many others such as the Express-News, the Houston Chronicle, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram have called for a moratorium on the death penalty.

Third, the willingness of capital juries to hand down death sentences appears to be on the decline. In 1996 there were 317 death sentences given nationwide. By 2005, death verdicts had declined to 128.

Fourth, while 12 states do not have the death penalty, an additional 12 states with the death penalty now find their executions on hold.

Legal challenges to the methods of execution, official moratoriums, or a ruling by the state high court have suspended executions in those states.

Lonnie Johnson 100th Harris county execution

Tuesday night Texas executed Lonnie Johnson, who became the 100th person executed from Harris County. Texas Moratorium blog has more details on Lonnie Johnson's case. According to Houston Chronicle,
The Tomball murders occurred during a racially charged summer as a campaign in neighboring Montgomery County to free Clarence Brandley from death row moved toward success. Brandley, a black high school janitor condemned for the 1980 rape-strangulation of a 16-year-old white student, was released from prison after almost 10 years.

Austin attorney Jodi Callaway Cole last week launched an appeals strategy at state and federal levels arguing that prosecutors withheld investigators' reports and other documents that could have buttressed Johnson's claim of self-defense.

Monday, July 23, 2007

George White at Texas Capitol

In the following days I will post a series of videos that includes speeches given by exonerated death-row inmates, murder victim family members, public officials and anti-death penalty activists. The following is a short video of George White talking during the Lobby day of 2007 Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break in Ausin, Texas. This October George will travel to Texas as part of the annual Journey of Hope from Violence to Healing.

On February 27, 1985, the White family experienced first-hand the insanity and horror of murder. George and his wife Charlene were shot repeatedly by an armed robber at his place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George held Charlene in his arms as her life slipped away. Their children, Tom and Christie, were only 12 and 5 at the time. The nightmare had just begun. Sixteen months later, George was charged with murdering his wife. Following a capital murder trial that was later described as "a mockery and a sham", George was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1989 and he was released from prison, but George remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence was finally brought forward. Following a brief hearing the trial court ordered the charge against him forevermore dismissed. The nightmare had lasted more than seven years...had the State of Alabama had its way, George White would be a dead man today.

Understanding fully how easy it is to become advocates for revenge, the White family, however, rejects the death penalty as a solution and as way of healing the wounds of their loss.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rally to Save Kenneth Foster

The State of Texas intends to execute Kenneth Foster on August 30, despite the fact that he did not murder anyone. Unlike any other state in this country, Texas utilizes a unique statute called the Law of Parties which allows the State to subject a person to death even though he did not kill, intend to kill, help or encourage anyone to do so.

Saturday, July 21, 5:00 PM
Texas State Capitol, south steps

On July 21, join Kenneth's family, friends, and supporters for a march and rally with speakers, live music, and food to demand that Texas does not go through with the execution.

Some Speakers and Performers include:

Tasha Foster – Wife of Kenneth Foster and Hip Hop Performer
Nydesha Foster – Daughter of Kenneth Foster
Shujaa Graham – Exonerated Death Row Inmate from D.C.
Welfare Poets – Politically Conscious Music from NY,
Mario Africa – With MOVE, Activist from Philadelphia
Darby Tillis – Exonerated Death Row Prisoner and Blues Musician from Chicago

Plus many more!

More info:
More info about Kenneth¹s situation:


National call-in / fax day on Friday, July 20
Contact Gov. Perry and tell him, "Don't execute Kenneth Foster, Jr.!"

Tel (800) 252-9600 (Texas callers)
(512) 463-1782 (Austin and out of state)
Fax (512) 463-1849

Monday, July 16, 2007

Top Ten “Fry Mumia” Myths Debunked

Steven Argue has written series of ten articles answering the top ten myths being circulated by those who advocate execution or continued prison for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Click on the image to read the first myth.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jocks 4 Justice: Stop the Execution of Kenneth Foster. Jr.

We the undersigned are shocked that the state of Texas aims to execute
Kenneth on August 31 for the "crime" of driving a car. His 10-year-old
daughter will live without a father because of a law obscene in its
existence, and repellent in it's application.

In Texas, under a statute called the "law of parties," a person can be sent
to the death chamber even if they didn't kill anyone. Kenneth was 80 feet
away in a car with the windows rolled up when another person, Mauriceo
Brown, shot and killed Michael LaHood. The shooter then got in the car, and
Kenneth drove off.

Kenneth doesn't deny driving the car. He also doesn't deny having driven
around with Mauriceo and two other men earlier in the evening, when two
other robberies occurred, but no one was harmed. But Kenneth faces death for
being behind the wheel. No more. No less.

He has been on death row since 1997. That's 10 years, locked up for 23 hours
a day, with only one 5-minute phone call every six months.

We the undersigned call for a reexamination of this case, and hope that the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where Kenneth's final appeal rests, will
see that justice would be served by granting Kenneth a new trial.

Kenneth, in addition to being the father of a beautiful 10-year-old girl who
he adores, has become a writer, poet and activist on death row. And he
understands that the wheels of justice at times need some pushing to move in
the right direction.

"It's my belief that if this does not become a political issue," he says,
"then I have no chance."

Therefore, we lend our voice and our support to stopping the impending
execution of Kenneth Foster.

*John Carlos
*1968 Olympic Bronze Medalist.
1/2 of the immortal Black Power Salute
Olympic Project for Human Rights

*Lee Evans
*400 Meter Olympic Champion
Gold Medalist 1968 Olympics
Olympic Project for Human Rights

*Jeff "Snowman" Monson
*Ultimate Fighting Championship

*Dennis Brutus
*Former Director of SANROC (the South African Non Racialist Olympic

*William Gerena--Rochet
*Editor of

*Toni Smith
*Former member of Manhattanville College Women's Basketball Team
Famous for her 2003 on the court stand at the start of the Iraq War.

*Neil DeMause
*Co-writer* Field Of Schemes
*Doug Harris
*Executive Director
Athletes United for Peace

*Lester Rodney
*Oldest Living Sportswriter
Sports Editor
*Daily Worker*, 1936-1958

*Rus Bradburd
*Former Assistant Basketball Coach University of Texas El Paso
Author* Paddy on the Hardwood: Journey through Irish Hoops

*Dave Zirin
*Columnist for Slam Magazine
Author* Welcome to the Terrordome

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Shooting, Borris Miles style!

Earlier this year Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston removed a few art pieces from the Death Penalty Art Show without permission from the State Preservation Board, because he found them to be offensive toward African Americans and Christians. Houston Chronicle is now reporting that Borris Miles used a pistol and shot one of the two men who were trying to steal from the construction site of the house he is building:

Miles was upstairs at the construction site at 3742 South MacGregor Way at about 7:30 p.m. Sunday when he heard a noise downstairs and went to investigate, police said. He spotted two men, Houston police spokeswoman Johanna Abad said this morning.

"He yelled at them and one threw a small pocket knife," HPD spokesman Victor Senties said. Miles pulled his weapon and "struck the suspect in the lower left leg."

The land on which Miles is building his new home is valued at $120,715, according to Harris County tax records. The 9,200-square-foot house is valued at $435,325.
Good thing no one from the Texas Moratorium Network was present at the Capitol when he discovered the art show on the morning of March 13, 2007. He might have shot them too.

Bonus videos:

A group of students went to his office during the lobby day of the Anti-Death Penalty Alternative Spring Break to ask him about his action. Unfortunately as you see Rep. Miles refused to discuss his action and ended the discussion.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mother of executed son will join relatives of Texans who have been executed to describe how the death penalty affects surviving families

By Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights

Tamara Chikunova, founder of the Uzbekistan-based group Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, will visit the United States for the first time to speak publicly with other family members of people who have been executed. Chikunova’s son Dmitri was executed in Uzbekistan seven years ago.

Chikunova’s visit to the United States is the result of a collaborative effort between Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) and the Third International Women’s Peace Conference. At the conference, Chikunova will speak as part of a panel titled “Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind.” Joining her on the panel will be Lois Robison, whose son Larry was executed in Texas in 2000, and Melanie Hebert, whose uncle Spencer Goodman was executed in Texas that same year.

The panel will take place on Saturday, July 14, at 2:00 PM, at the Adams Mark hotel in downtown Dallas. Chikunova will also speak at a 5:30 reception organized by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

“This is an opportunity for people in Texas to hear about how the death penalty shames and traumatizes the surviving family members, and to see that that experience is common across different cultures and nationalities,” said Susannah Sheffer of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, who will be moderating the panel.

The event takes place as Texas is preparing to carry out its 400th execution, currently scheduled for Aug. 15. Texas by far leads the U.S. in executions, accounting for more than one-third of the almost 1,100 executions that have occurred here since 1976.

Chikunova will talk about the secrecy surrounding the death penalty in her country: she was not notified of her son’s execution date ahead of time, but learned of it when she arrived at the prison for a visit and was told Dmitri had been executed the day before. To this day, Chikunova does not know where her son is buried.

“What Tamara Chikunova went through is appalling, and we need to remember that a kind of secrecy and silence surrounds the death penalty in the United States as well,” Sheffer said. “With each execution, we create a new grieving family, and their experience is seldom taken into account when we consider the social costs of the death penalty".

“What Tamara Chikunova went through is appalling, and we need to remember that a kind of secrecy and silence surrounds the death penalty in the United States as well,” Sheffer said. “With each execution, we create a new grieving family, and their experience is seldom taken into account when we consider the social costs of the death penalty.”

For more information contact Susannah Sheffer at 617-512-2010 or