State House Panel Looks At Death Penalty Bills

AUSTIN (AP) – A Texas lawmaker wants to suspend executions in the nation’s most active death penalty state and create a commission to study whether the process needs to be fixed.

A state House committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, that would create the Texas Capital Punishment Commission and establish a two-year moratorium on executions while the commission completes its study.

The nine-member commission would propose legislation to fix any inequities in state capital punishment procedures based on the study’s findings.

Advocates of the bill say that Texas has long needed to thoroughly vet its use of the penalty. At least 12 Texans have been exonerated from death row, and supporters say the state must carefully scrutinize the statute to erase any doubt about whether death row inmates are actually guilty.

“That’s a flaw in our system that I think deserves some attention from this Legislature,” Dutton said. “And we ought to stop the system from executing people while we fix it.”

Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, likened the penalty to a plane that has crashed and needs examination.

“After a plane crash, we look to see what the problem was,” he said. “The death penalty is a flawed system, but one we haven’t looked at in a comprehensive way to see if we can improve the system to protect people who are innocent.”

Dutton’s bill was just one of several bills the committee left pending to change the state death penalty and alter procedures in capital felony cases.

Dutton and Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, are working to amend a state law that has prompted nationwide criticism.

A Texas statute known as the law of parties allows a person to be held liable for a murder as a co-conspirator and possibly face the death penalty even if they didn’t physically commit the crime.

The bills would allow co-defendants to have separate trials in death penalty cases. Dutton’s bill would prohibit death sentences in such cases.

Family members and friends of Texans convicted under the law testified before the committee, pleading with lawmakers to fundamentally change the statute that unfairly sent their loved ones to death row.

The statute caught lawmakers’ attention in 2007 when the case of Kenneth Foster spurred national outrage and a massive grassroots effort to prove his innocence.

Foster was the driver of getaway car in a 1996 robbery-turned-shooting. Foster was tried with the murderer, and the jury invoked the law of parties to determine that Foster should have anticipated that the robberies could end in murder.

“Everything that applied to one, applied to the other,” Foster’s father, Kenneth Foster, Sr., said of the trial. “It was unfair for each one because the negative weight took a toll on both throughout the entire trial.”

After spending 10 years on death row, Foster was hours away from being executed as an accomplice to murder when Gov. Rick Perry spared his life.

Following the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommendation that Perry grant Foster a death row reprieve, the governor expressed concern about defendants being tried at the same time and urged lawmakers to re-examine the practice.

“Foster’s story is a perfect example of why this needs to be changed,” Miles said. “To sentence a man to death who has not committed murder himself is inhumane, cruel and fundamentally unjust.”

Those advocating for reform say the law is based in unrealistic expectations akin to mind-reading.

“This law cries out for change,” said attorney Mary Phelps. “It’s so broadly written that it actually could involve people who had no connection to the eventual crime.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. Dame Edna says:

    If you are out robbing someone and your buddy kills the victim, you too should die for the murder. That would help you understand that your line of work is dangerous and can get you killed. I know, change professions. Don’t be a criminal, get a job and help support Liberals who don’t want to work.

  2. scott says:

    I’m with Dame….

    On the ones where we KNOW they murdered or raped someone… caught in the act, etc… NO lengthy, costly trials… no appeals….no decade on death row. I don’t know how much a death row inmate costs from the point of appeals to the execution…but I imagine it’s easily in the hundred thousand dollar mark… I am sure you could get the BULLET donated and the cost to the state would be ZERO. The other inmates could dig the hole and bury the body.

    No, instead…lets make a “moratorium” for 2 years (are the dems footing the bill for this moratorium?) “study” the process some more, and see if we can get some more families to vote democrat.

  3. Smith says:

    With a huge budge shortfall looming lets waste our tax dollars to conduct studies on a process that works. Give me a break.

  4. scott says:

    Lets see…they have 10+ years to prove an innocent person isn’t being executed. If they need more time than that, something is severely under-prioritized… Don’t wait until the person is about the get the needle, THEN start looking for last-minute ideas to spare their life.

  5. ChadCiCi says:

    Let’s see, we are laying off teachers, cutting jobs, attempting to cut spending, reduce the Texas Budget and we are going to create another USELESS Commitee to review the Death Penalty!!! We are spending way too much money keeping them alive for 20-30 years. A 22LR cost about $.04 each. Painless and quick. I will donate the first 1000 rounds. In addition, if we begin to question each verdict by a jury that was presented evidence to convince them of the guilt, then we will probably have to review EVERY case…This is BS!!!!

  6. LYNN says:

    I BELIEVE THAT IF YOU TAKE A LIFE YOU DESERVE THE SAME IN RETURN, AS QUICKLY AS YOU TOOK THIERS. THE 3 MONTH OLD BABY IN THE NEWS THAT WAS SO BADLY BEATEN. THE EVIL THAT IOS IN THIS COUTRY MAKES ME SICK AT MY STOMACH. I WORK 7 DAYS A WEEK AND PAY ALOT OF TAXES AND I DON’T WANT MY MONEY SPENT ON AN INDIVIDUAL THAT SITTING IN A PRISON. SPEED UP THE DEATH PENALTY PROCESS.

  7. Kay says:

    It’s a waste of time, the problems are already known. Simple solution is they all get DNA testing done before they are killed within 1 year of their crime, if the case lacks DNA evidence then a board review of the evidence should be done and decide if there is enough evidence with a majority vote taken to enact the sentence. If there is doubt and the family wants to pay for keeping them in prison the rest of their lives, then they can be spared. Otherwise they will have to make a living in jail that would pay for their upkeep (making things to sale) for the rest of their lives. Some if the board thinks the evidence was flawed could be released since we all know some get railroaded for doing something they didn’t just so a case can be solved.
    As for the Foster case if he knew he was driving the get-away car of a robbery that turned to murder then he should have gotten the death penalty. Today when anyone faces a gun in a robbery they know most of the time they will be killed unless they try to prevent it and he darn well knew that fact in 1996, so he knew murder was possible.
    If Foster didn’t know his friend was committing a robbery then he shouldn’t face the death penalty, his speed driving away would have been the red flag of if he knew or not. He could have not known when his friend went in he was going to rob the place and told when he got back in the car, but in that case the minute his life was not in danger by being with his friend he should have turned him in unless he wanted to face the death penalty for aiding and abeiting a criminal.
    What is so hard about that? Yes people make mistakes ID’ing people and others have been railroaded to a death sentance just to make the public feel safe.

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