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"Law of Parties"

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Last week, I wrote about the impending execution of Troy Anthony Davis, after receiving a 90-day stay of execution last Tuesday, he continues to sit on Georgia death row, awaiting his fate.

Today, I heard about the case of Kenneth Foster, Jr., a Texas death row inmate scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on August 30, 2007.

Are you familiar with the name Kenneth Foster, Jr.?  Have you heard mention of his case, or impending death, in mainstream media? Have you heard of the "Law of Parties"?

Now, does the name of pro-athlete Michael Vick ring a bell?  It should.  His name and the horrific images splayed across our television screens over the past week, have brought to light the barbaric and callous "sport" of illegal dog fighting.  The onslaught of media coverage has induced widespread public outrage, and rightfully so, over the sadistic extermination of poor-performing pitbulls, savagely put to death by various methods, including hanging and electrocution.

So, where does Kenneth Foster, Jr., fit in?  Beside the fact that most people have never heard of him, he will die next month for the crime of murder even though he never touched the murder weapon.

The state of Texas acknowledges this.  He killed no one.  He knew nothing of the impending crime about to unfold around him.  Yet, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death under a little known statute.  What makes the law possible - to kill a man who never committed the crime of murder -  is called the Law of Parties.

A number of U.S. states have laws that allow prosecuting attorneys to hold anyone present at the scene of a crime legally responsible for the outcome.  Not surprisingly, Texas, who boasts the highest number of executions than any other state, is the ONLY state that applies this statute in capital cases, making it the only U.S. locale where an individual can be factually innocent of murder and still face the death penalty.

So far this year, Texas has executed 18 inmates, and has the dubious honor of being referred to as the "Busiest Killing State."  Print that on your license plates - The Sunshine State, The Golden State, The Busiest Killing State.

Kenneth Foster Jr. has served ten years on Texas' death row for being the getaway driver following a slaying.  On August 14, 1996, in San Antonio, Texas, Michael LaHood Jr., was shot and killed on the street by another occupant in the car in which Foster was riding.  The convicted killer, Mauriceo Brown, left the vehicle, and after an altercation with LaHood, shot and killed him.

According to Foster and the two other occupants of the car at the time of the shooting, Foster had no knowledge of the impending crime.  Mauriceo Brown has since been executed.     

By definition, the Law of Parties can subject a person to death even though he did not kill, intend to kill, help or encourage anyone to do so.

The public outcry over the brutal murders of "non-productive" pitbulls by hanging and electrocution has landed NFL athlete Michael Vick in hot water over his ruthless and sadistic treatment of defenseless living things.  The majority of human beings cannot stomach nor tolerate such blatant and senseless brutality.  It has no place in a civil society.

However, some of us can come to terms with the hanging, electrocution or lethal injection of a fellow human being - with little fanfare, media coverage, or public outrage.

Breakdown of U.S. methods of execution: Lethal Injection, authorized in 37 states.  Electrocution, 10 states (sole method used in Nebraska).  Gas Chamber, 5 states.  Hanging, only in New Hampshire and Washington (lethal injection as alternative).  Firing Squad, only in Idaho and Oklahoma.  (source: DPIC, Death Penalty Information Center).

For Kenneth Foster, Jr., and Troy Anthony Davis, both black men on death row, their days may be numbered.

According to DPIC and their statistics on Race and the Death Penalty:

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Jan Baumgartner is the author of the memoir, Moonlight in the Desert of Left Behind. She was born near San Francisco, California, and for years lived on the coast of Maine. She is a writer and creative content book editor. She's worked as a (more...)

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