BPP Recommends Life
Whether Perry will agree remains to be seen for death row inmate Robert Thompson
By Jordan Smith,
8:03AM, Thu. Nov. 19, 2009
In a rare life-sparing decision, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted Nov. 18 to recommend to Gov. Rick Perry that the death sentence for condemned inmate Robert Thompson be commuted to life in prison. Now its up to Perry to decide whether to take that advice or to send Thompson to the gurney.
Unless Perry steps in, Thompson will be executed tonight for the 1996 robbery of a Houston area convenience store that ended with the murder of Mansoor Rahim, even though Thompson wasn't directly responsible for the murder. Indeed, another man, Sammy Butler, pulled the trigger and killed Rahim, but under the state's law of parties – which posits, generally, that each person involved in a crime can be held equally responsible for the reckless or murderous behavior of an accomplice – Thompson should have anticipated that Butler's actions would result in Rahim's murder. Interestingly, however, Butler was sentenced to life.
In 2007, Perry commuted to life the death sentence of Kenneth Foster who was also sentenced to die for a San Antonio murder where he was not the triggerman. Officially, Perry said that he would commute Foster's sentence because Foster and the triggerman had, unfairly, been tried together. That was not the case for Thompson, who was tried separately from Butler. Whether that distinction will influence Perry's decision remains to be seen.
(A bill to eliminate joint trials in capital cases died this spring in the Texas Senate, but not before the measure earned a good amount of lawmaker support. It is almost certain that this issue, and the larger issue of tweaking the law of parties in full, will return to the Capitol in 2011.)
You can find more on Thompson's case here.