Texas Governor Commutes Death Sentence: Did the EU Pressure Make a Difference?

by Julian Ku

As Roger noted, the EU presidency recently sent a public letter to the governor of Texas asking him to declare a moratorium on executions in his state. Texas governor Rick Perry sent a rather tart reply, which can be boiled down to: “Buzz off!”. On the other hand, he did commute the death sentence of one convict yesterday, who had been a getaway driver in an armed robbery that resulted in a murder. Triumph for the EU? I’m not so sure, since Texas did execute another convict this week. But I suppose he can expect more letters from the EU in the future.

http://opiniojuris.org/2007/08/31/texas-governor-commutes-death-sentence-did-the-eu-pressure-make-a-difference/

6 Responses

  1. I doubt the decision to commute had anything whatsoever to do with the EU letter. First, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, the governor “receive a rare recommendation to do so from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.” Second, Kenneth Foster Jr. (then 19, now 30) was the driver of the car in a botched robbery that included the person who actually murdered the young law student, Michael LaHood Jr., and who was executed last year. The governor rightly expressed concern “about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously,” stating that he thought this an issue “the Legislature should examine.” Finally, as the Times also notes, “Foster maintained he never knew that Brown was going to shoot LaHood, an account supported by the other men [in the car]. But under Texas’ controversial ‘law of parties,’ which allows accomplices to be tried for capital murder, he was sentenced to death in 1997.” I would think these would be among the facts that in the first instance account for Governor Perry’s decision. It is true that an internet campaign garnered support from around the world, and this included a rap video produced by his wife (from the Netherlands) that has been viewed well over 10,000 times on YouTube, but the letter was only part of that campaign and seems likely to have played any leading role in the commutation of the death sentence.

    In any case, if the late and great Molly Ivins was still with us, she would be quick to point out in her inimitably humorous way that no self-respecting politician from the state of Texas would ever let a European voice persuade him or her one way or the other on anything!

  2. Erratum: “…and seems unlikely to have played….”

  3. Interesting that the NYT story on this quoted an Amnesty International person for the obligatory activist response, and not someone from a domestic anti-penalty group.

  4. I agree with Mr. O’Donnell, it seems like the Parole and Pardon board and the unusual circumstance of the crime had far more to do with it than international concern.

    The EU may not agree, however, so we might see more in the way of these kind of protest letters in the future. I doubt they hurt Mr. Foster’s case.

  5. I can speak with some authority, having friends in the office, and having lived in Texas for over 30 years (in CA now alas!). Perry has been against the trying of capital murder defendants as co-defendants for awhile.

    Perry is not changing the “law of parties”, but is expressing disapproval of DAs trying these folks together. If it’s worth all the money to seek death — then it’s worth doing it for each party alleged to be involved (regardless of the issue of DP in general) — giving each person his/her own day in court.

  6. Perhaps I should say “assuredness” instead of “authority”.

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