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House Tweaks Death Penalty Law

On the Lege

By Jordan Smith, Fri., May 22, 2009

Texas reps on May 15 passed House Bill 2267, the aptly retitled Kenneth Foster Jr. Act. The measure would block prosecutors from seeking the death penalty for defendants tried under the so-called "law of parties," which allows a co-defendant with only a tangential involvement in a crime to be eligible for the ultimate penalty because they should have foreseen that the crime had a possibly deadly outcome. Critics of the law have long said that the law of parties unconstitutionally expands the pool of death-eligible defendants. Texas' use of the law of parties in the case of Kenneth Foster, convicted for the 1996 death of Michael LaHood, earned international attention; Foster was scheduled to die in 2007, but he was spared after Gov. Rick Perry accepted the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute his sentence to life in prison (see "Wrong Place, Wrong Time," Feb. 11, 2005). Perry did not mention the law of parties in his commutation announcement but did say he was concerned about capital defendants being tried together and that lawmakers should address the issue. The House bill passed last week, authored by Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, does just that, banning a court from joining capital defendants in a trial.

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