Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Committee Hearing on Law of Parties, Thursday, March 19, at the Texas Capitol

The Capital Punishment Subcommittee of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hold a hearing Thursday at 8 AM on Terri Hodge's HB 2267, which would end the option of sentencing someone to death under the Law of Parties. Currently, the Law of Parties can be used to sentence people to death even though they did not actually kill or intend anyone to be killed, as long as they "should have anticipated" a murder.

Kenneth Foster, Jr was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties even though he did not kill anyone. Foster's death sentence was commuted to life in prison on August 30, 2007 by Governor Perry. Hodge was one of the legislators who signed a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles urging clemency for Kenneth Foster in 2007.

Several Texas newspaper editorial boards opposed the execution of Kenneth Foster because of the unfairness of the Law of Parties. The Fort Worth Star Telegram wrote on August 19,2007, "The long-term solution is for the Texas Legislature to revisit the state's "law of parties" statutes. The Dallas Morning News said in an editorial, "Mr. Foster is a criminal. But he should not be put to death for a murder committed by someone else."

What: Committee Hearing on HB 2267 to End Death Penalty Sentences Under the Law of Parties and require separate trials

Where: The Texas Capitol in Room, E2.016. Take the elevator down to level E2.

When: 8 AM on Thursday, February 19

No one should be put to death for a murder committed by someone else. The death penalty should certainly not be used for people who do not actually kill anyone. While a majority of people in Texas may still support the death penalty, I am quite sure that even most people who support the death penalty only want it used for the worst of the worst murderers and not for people who do not actually kill anyone. Hodge's bill would eliminate the death penalty sentencing option for people convicted under the Law of Parties, but it would still allow people who play lesser roles in a case to be convicted and sentenced to prison under the Law of Parties.

Hodge's HB 2267 also includes a provision that codefendants be tried separately. The bill analysis says "according to the Office of Court Administration, under current law, a court has discretion to jointly try two or more defendants who are charged with the same offense or with any offense growing out of the same transaction in capital felony cases." The bill would amend court procedures to necessitate two or more capital trials rather than one trial. Foster had been tried together with the actual killer, who was executed for the murder. When Perry commuted Foster's sentence he did not address the Law of Parties issue that allowed Foster to be sentenced to death even though he did not kill anyone. Instead Perry said, "I am concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously and it is an issue I think the Legislature should examine."

If you favor ending the death penalty under the Law of Parties, please go over to the capitol and sign in in support of HB 2267. All you have to do is fill out a postcard sized form in the room where the hearing is taking place and mark that you are in favor, then you can leave. Or you can stay and listen to the testimony.

The meeting starts at 8 AM, but it is likely to recess around 9:30 and then reconvene after the full House adjourns. There are other bills scheduled to be heard at this meeting too. We don't know what exact time testimony on the Law of Parties bill will be heard, but you can sign the form as being in support at any time while the meeting is taking place and then leave.

Call Scott Cobb at 512-552-4743, if you have questions or if on Thursday morning you want to know if the committee is in adjournment.

Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage located between Trinity and San Jacinto Streets at 12th and 13th streets. Parking is free for the first two hours and $.75 for each half- hour thereafter (maximum daily charge: $6.00). Metered spaces are available throughout the area.

If you can not make it to the committee hearing, we need you to call or email the following members of the subcommittee on Capital Punishment and say that you want the committee to approve HB 2267, the Law of Parties bill.

Members of the Subcommittee on Capital Punishment

Robert Miklos, Chair of Subcommittee on Capital Punishment

District 101 (Dallas County)

Send him an Email

Phone: 512-463-0464; FAX: 512-463-9295

Wayne Christian (Vice Chair), District 09 (Shelby,
Nacogdoches, San Augustine, Sabine, Jasper
Send him an Email

Phone: 512-463-0556; FAX: 512-463-5896

Joseph Moody, District 78 (El Paso County-part)
Send him an Email

Phone: 512-463-0728; FAX: 512-463-0397

Pete Gallego

Send him an Email

Phone: 512-463-0566; FAX: 512-263-9408

Terri Hodge (Sponsor of Law of Parties bill, so no
need to contact her)

Below is a media report from a San Antonio TV station on a press conference we had on Feb 24 on the Law of Parties issue.

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