Kenneth Foster’s Songs of Freedom

The debate over “black culture” has taken a turn for the especially absurd in recent months. If one were to take the Don Imuses of this country at their word, then somehow the daily horrors of the African-American experience–the poverty, the discrimination, the brutality–stem from the way the community views itself, from the “self-loathing” of the ghetto to the “thug mentality” of hip-hop. It’s the classic argument; that if only the black community would trade in its bling for bootstraps, then they will most surely prosper in the land of opportunity.

Tell that to Kenneth Foster.

Ten years ago, Kenneth was a young college student, a music lover, and recent father. Born in Austin, Texas, he spent his high school years working for several small record companies in the area. In 1995 he began his first year at St. Phillips College majoring in sociology, and less than a year later, in May of ’96, he started his own label, Tribulation Records. Kenneth had a bright future ahead of him, no doubt.

But a year later, Kenneth was convicted of murder. The previous August, he had been driving a car with three friends in the San Antonio area. One of those riding in the car, Mauriceo Brown, got out in front of a party to talk to a woman, Mary Patrick. While Kenneth and his other two friends were eighty feet away, waiting in the car, they heard a gunshot. Brown had shot Patrick’s boyfriend, Michael LaHood.

Kenneth never had a gun in his hand, never saw, let alone aimed at LaHood, and never he pulled the trigger. Even the prosecution admits this. And he did not know anyone was going to be shot that night.

But according to Texas’ “law of parties,” Kenneth should have anticipated the loss of life that was to come that night because he was in the same car as Brown. It’s a law straight out of a Franz Kafka novel, where the accused are expected to have an almost psychic ability to predict when a crime is going to happen.

Kenneth’s execution has been set for August 30th, 2007. He is guilty of nothing except driving a car.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise. This is Texas, the state that has executed the most people of any state since the reinstatement of the death penalty. A disproportionate number of these people have been of color. This is the former stomping ground of the Texecutioner George Bush, and the current Governor Rick Perry has already surpassed Dubya’s record of 156 executions. LaHood was the white son of a prominent Houston attorney. Kenneth is a working-class black man. It was the perfect concoction of sick ingredients to continue the pattern of the racist American injustice system.

But Kenneth has not spent the past ten years wallowing in misery. He is a founding member of DRIVE (Death Row Inter-Communalist Vanguard Engagement), a radical, multi-racial organization of death row inmates fighting for better conditions in prisons and against the injustice of the prison system. They have staged cafeteria sit-ins, hunger strikes, and worked with groups on the outside to publicize their cause. Kenneth also continues to write poetry about himself, his case, and the need for a world without racism and inequality. On August 22nd, he and fellow prisoner John Joe Amador, scheduled to be executed the day before Kenneth, announced they will be taking part in a “protest of passive non-participation” against their own executions. It is clear he is not giving up without a fight.

Because of these efforts, and because of the bald-faced racism his case puts on display, Kenneth’s cause has gained national and international attention. Activists in Texas and beyond have mobilized demanding his execution be stayed.

He has also gained support, not surprisingly, from the Welfare Poets, one of underground hip-hop’s most radical and outspoken groups. Their music has been a staple in many-an-activist’s CD player for a decade now. When Kenneth and other DRIVE members heard of the group in 2004, they had a letter sent to the Welfare Poets, extending an invitation to perform at an anti-death penalty rally in Austin. They accepted, and began to cultivate a personal relationship with Kenneth. As Ray Ramirez, a founding member of the Poets told me, “Learning about Kenneth’s case and seeing the injustice is real easy, but learning about the man has been a fascinating experience. He lives with an undying hope, always looking to the betterment of the world. He is a true soldier for the people and an amazing poet and writer at that.”

In 2006 the Welfare Poets contributed to a compilation called “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” which sampled the work of several artists opposed to the death penalty. Another performer on that comp was Kenneth’s wife Tasha, an MC who goes by the name Jav’lin. Her song “Walk With Me,” and the video for it, is about Kenneth’s case, and can be downloaded on her site (http://www.javlin.nl) for 99 cents, which goes toward his defense fund.

Jav’lin described to me recently what motivated her to write such a song:

“I write down everything I feel, sometimes that turns into a song. Well that’s what happened with ‘walk with me’. I wrote down how I felt about his situation, turned it into a song and started leaking that to people. People said it made the situation more visual, so I decided that if I did a video along with it that would really give people a good visual of what happened and it did. However, my initial reason for recording the song was just to let Kenneth hear this. Hip hop is the voice of the streets, music that appealed to Kenneth when he was still out in the streets and I wanted him to know that ‘the streets’ back here knew of his story and agreed that it was injustice that was placed upon him.”

Decades ago, racism was enforced with trees and nooses. Billie Holiday sang of this “strange fruit” in defiant protest. Today that same racism is backed up with needles and gurneys. It is a form of state sanctioned murder to keep people divided and scared. And despite everything spoon-fed to us about rap’s “violence,” Kenneth Foster’s case sheds ample light on where the real violence and depravity is coming from.

*To learn more about Kenneth’s case, DRIVE, and to sign the petition demanding his execution be stopped, go to FreeKenneth.com

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and solidarity activist in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies. He is a frequent contributor to SocialistWorker.org, Dissident Voice, ZNet and the Electronic Intifada. He has also appeared in TheNation.com, Z Magazine, New Politics and the International Socialist Review. His first book, "Sounds of Liberation: Music In the Age of Crisis and Resistance," is expected out in the fall; you can donate to the project on Kickstarter. He can be reached at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com Read other articles by Alexander.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Brian DB said on August 25th, 2007 at 9:14am #

    This story is shockingly different than the truth. Here is what even Foster doesn’t contest.

    1) Foster had shot at 3 people, wounding 2, one of them seriously.

    2) Several days before Lahood’s murder, Foster and those same “men” committed an armed robbery. The victim’s cellphones were found in Foster’s trunk.

    3) At the beginning of the night, Brown pulled out a gun and asked, do yall want to rob. They agreed and began to commit armed robberies.

    4) Before the murder, 2 armed robberies had been committed, one of the victim’s was pistol whipped. Foster helped pick the victims, dropped off the robbers, and picked them up and helped them get away. Futhermore, Foster evenly split the money taken from the robberies with the other robbers.

    5) Foster, the SOLE driver of that car, could freely decide where that car went. He spotted two cars and began to follow them for nearly 6 miles with a route that has nearly 9 or 10 turns or intersections. Furthermore, they left the populated streets and entered a secluded, wooded and dark neighborhood for another mile. All the while still stalking those cars.

    6) Foster drove past Lahood’s house. He could’ve kept driving, but he turned the car around and stopped. He says there was a dead end. There’s not one dead end in that neighborhood.

    This is uncontested. Perhaps you read this and think it was an accident, however, this sounds like those guys were doing precisely what they had intended to do that night, find prey. Even the appellate court that reviewed the area in comparison with Dillard’s “new” evidence and alleged reasons for why those felons arrived at Lahood’s rejected it as being patently absurd.

    You don’t have to pull the trigger to be a murderer. I haven’t asked the lawmakers themselves, but I liken it to a robbery that you and I were going to commit. I build a bomb for you to use during the robbery. If you use it, I’m just as guilty as you are, no different than if I told you to do it.

    Here, Foster was the only driver, he drove that car exactly where he wanted to, he helped pick the victims, he decided to stalk those two cars. Those six miles weren’t on a straight away or on the highway. We’re talking about following someone for nearly 10-15 minutes, in a very circuitous route. He turned the car around and stopped in front of the house. He waited for the robbery to occur and sped away as a getaway to the murder. He didn’t check to see if the victim was alive or call the police. He peeled out speeding Brown away, all the while trying to avoid the police and on 2 occassions, to get rid of the evidence. Every action not only enabled the murder but furthered it. His culpability is no different than the shooter’s. In all probability, the shooter didn’t set out intending to murder. However, they set out intending to commit armed robberies, and one of those robberies resulted in murder. By setting out intending to rob, they must accept any consequences that follow from those actions.

    Lastly, I must admit he didn’t pull the trigger. But all those actions that led up to it were his. His actions solely enabled and set up the situation for no rational reason other than for setting up an eventual capital murder. Furthermore, after the murder was committed, he didn’t stop to see if the victim was alive, he didn’t call the police, he drove off with the shooter, trying to get him to get rid of the evidence. It doesn’t get any more involved than that.

    I ask: If i told you that you were my best friend, then behind your back tried to destroy your marriage, your job and personal life, which is more true: my words or actions? This is exactly what is being presented in Foster’s case. He claims he’s innocent, but let’s compare that with the uncontested facts that even Foster can’t deny.

    During the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. The court took judicial notice of the gas station where they began to stalk their victims. Foster drove nearly 6 miles and their route involved nearly 9 or 10 turns/intersections that they chose to drive through. They then entered a secluded neighborhood and continued to follow them for another mile to Mike’s house. They drove past it, then turned around and stopped. Foster claims there was a dead end, there’s not one dead end in that entire neighborhood. He claims they just ended up there, but there is the matter of the long pursuit that he’s ignored and never bothered to explain . . . and then there’s still the matter of turning the car around before dropping off Brown ( consistent with their prior robberies). No valid explanation has ever been given for turning the car around before Brown got out. This is factual evidence indicating an intent wholly different than later claims of innocence.

    Foster talks about a missing weapon as if this would vindicate him. That claim is desperate and cruel and doesn’t care about what pain it inflicts on Mike’s family. He claims they were with the body for several minutes before they called police and 15 minutes before they arrived. You tell me, it’s 2am and you discover your son/brother violently murdered, do you think you’re gonna think about hiding a gun. Especially, when you consider that the murder happened 6 or 7 feet from their door. This was their private property and obviously, there was a threat of deadly force because Mike’s dead. They didn’t need to hide a weapon. If Mike would’ve had one, he would’ve had every right to use it. This is yet another example of the many “developments” that later arise in Foster’s story. Originally, Brown had said he shot Mike accidentally, then because Mike was fidgety and he got scared, and lastly because he allegedly heard the “cha-chink” of a weapon being chambered. Which was it? In the end it’s moot, because the fact is there wasn’t one, and sadly, this is just the result of a sick and desperate ploy by Foster.

    In Foster’s video interview, he flippantly mentions that Brown (shooter) was a Romeo and smiles as he says that’s why they didn’t pay attention to what was happening at Mike’s. However, it was 2am, they had just committed 2 armed robberies (one victim was pistol whipped) and had just stalked Mike for nearly 6 miles and turned around for no good reason. Then no one paid attention while their friend got out of the car and confronted a man? Seriously, is this the version he’s trying to pass off? Possible, but neither probable nor credible. Especially when you compare it with foresnsic evidence, Brown’s barrel was within 1-5 inches from Mike’s face. Put a ruler to your face and see just how close that is. Shockingly close isn’t it? It’s consistent with that group’s other robberies where they stuck the barrel directly in the faces of their other victims.

    This beckons my original question: what is more credible, what do you believe, words or undisputed facts that show an intent entirely different than later claims?

    Furthermore, during the punishment phase, after he was found guilty, the jury learned of Foster’s extensive criminal record that involved an armed robbery with those same men just 2 days before the murder, in fact, the stolen cellphones were still in Foster’s trunk. They also learned that Foster was on deferred adjudication for a 1994 violent shooting, where Foster fired into a truck with 3 people. 2 were wounded, one seriously. (People claim he wasn’t a murderer before that night. Luck and luck alone is why those boys survived. I found it frustratingly amusing to hear Foster’s lawyer say he fired into a truck. Conveniently, he left out the 3 people that were in it. This is typical with this case. Many important facts keep being left out). However, the jury heard this along with other evidence to show Foster’s propensity for violence.

    I knew Mike from SAC, a community college in SA. If you disagree with the death penalty, that’s your choice and I respect that. But don’t falsify the record to support your beliefs. That’s not credible. I’ve followed both Foster’s and Brown’s stories over the years as they’ve changed to suit their latest defense. I keep asking but haven’t had one response to this question: If your guy’s innocent, why does his story keep changing. Innocent men don’t need evolving and malleable lies.

    In the end, Texas, and I agree with it, believes that if you are a major participant to an armed felony, then you are culpable for any other felonies that might occur. It doesn’t matter that Foster didn’t want anyone to die that night, from the looks of it neither did Brown. However, the courts have noted time and again, that armed robbery implicitly creates a “money or your life” situation. It’s reasonable and foreseeable that someone might die. Foster claims that Texas demands a foresight 20/20. That is utterly ridiculous. Even a child who’s barely familiar with a gun knows that guns can kill. Especially since his supporters say how intelligent Foster is and the fact that Foster had previously fired a weapon at people, that doesn’t take any sort of appreciable foresight. This is further compounded by the fact that the weapon was a .44 magnum, one of the most powerful handguns and it was armed with hollow points, designed to inflict maximum damage and fatality. To later claim, “I didn’t know” is not only incredulous but disingenuous. I won’t tolerate it from my 12 year old, I definitely won’t tolerate it from Foster.

    I miss my dear friend Mike. Executing Foster won’t bring him back to me, but it will help bring some form of closure to myself, those that knew and loved him, and most importantly to his family. Showing violent felons that we won’t tolerate what they choose to perpetrate on innocents will hopefully deter at least one other murder or violent crime. Our system gave these “men” chances, all four were on probation for felonies, and they repaid Texas’ mercy with violence and felonies and murder.

  2. Deadbeat said on August 25th, 2007 at 9:39am #

    Kenneth also continues to write poetry about himself, his case, and the need for a world without racism and inequality.

    And that is the point. A world with racism and inequality.

  3. Brian DB said on August 25th, 2007 at 9:54am #

    I’m responding to:

    “But a year later, Kenneth was convicted of murder. The previous August, he had been driving a car with three friends in the San Antonio area. One of those riding in the car, Mauriceo Brown, got out in front of a party to talk to a woman, Mary Patrick. While Kenneth and his other two friends were eighty feet away, waiting in the car, they heard a gunshot. Brown had shot Patrick’s boyfriend, Michael LaHood.

    Kenneth never had a gun in his hand, never saw, let alone aimed at LaHood, and never he pulled the trigger. Even the prosecution admits this. And he did not know anyone was going to be shot that night.

    But according to Texas’ “law of parties,” Kenneth should have anticipated the loss of life that was to come that night because he was in the same car as Brown. It’s a law straight out of a Franz Kafka novel, where the accused are expected to have an almost psychic ability to predict when a crime is going to happen. ”

    I’m explaining that the facts presented are wrong concerning that. There was no party. He wasn’t just riding around with friends. He wasn’t just driving them to a gas station. They were participating in armed robberies and the last one resulted in a vicious murder.

    “But Kenneth has not spent the past ten years wallowing in misery. ”

    You’re right, he hasn’t. But more importantly, he also has not spent those ten years showing any form of repentance or remorse. He’s written many articles and changed his name to Haramia, but not one article was written about his violent past. Not one was written to show others not to follow such violent ways. They’ve all been about how he’s a victim. To turn this into a racist story is misleading. Mike wasn’t white. He was Mexican-Lebanese.

  4. Mary said on August 25th, 2007 at 8:41pm #

    I just wanted to say that on the website, it is admitted that he DID commit crimes that night. And he has been convicted and he should serve time for the crimes he committed, but not the death penalty for something he should have forseen. For whatever reason, he didn’t forsee the victim getting shot. He didn’t do it. He did participate in the crime and should and is being punished for that. I just don’t believe it is fair to kill a man when he wasn’t the one who made the sole decision to shoot and kill anyone. It is my opinion, and one shared by many. The killer has already been executed. Why should another die? Especially one that didn’t kill anyone. I am sorry for Mike’s family, and anyone who hasn’t lost a loved one in a violent crime can’t imagine their pain and the heartache. I have nothing but empathy for them. He didn’t deserve to die, but neither does Kenneth.

  5. Krista Cole said on August 27th, 2007 at 12:35pm #

    Brian DB and others,

    A few points to consider. Firstly, can you explain why the other guys in the car–whom you’ve not mentioned specifically by name, didn’t get the death penalty? I mean, fairly, if they all FOUR were culpable for the armed robberies, according to the Law of Parties (and Steen and the other man admitted that they were) then why didn’t the prosecution get a death sentence for all? Or did they make some deal with Prosecutors? Seems to me, you fail to mention that Brown was tried WITH Foster–something most people would agree was shady–that probably fairly prejudiced Foster’s case, but anyway–didn’t the other two deserve to die too? You are telling me that the system is fair when it produces two categorically different results for the same crime?

    Secondly, many here don’t doubt that Kenneth Foster was no choir boy, but the only evidence you’ve pointed out exists that proves Foster knew that Lahood was going to die is several earlier armed robberies–where people did NOT die. In fact, why don’t we execute people who commit armed robberies period–even when people DON’T get killed, based on the same logic–they should have known that someone might get killed! We don’t do that because we all know that we *should* take into account that the intent and probability are two different things. Why is Foster’s case different? In his case intent and probability are one in the same, and this is justice?

    Furthermore, the shootings you referred to didn’t happen on that night, did they–where you claim Foster used a gun? That was an another event entirely. And in that event, was Foster shot at first? Check facts, first. Did he serve time for it?

    The fact remains that the only reason Foster is on Death Row is that Texas Law is to be interpreted as Foster should have KNOWN Lahood was likely to get shot, and you claim because they were packing a gun that *could* have killed, they should have known and that was likely? I do not happen to agree. My brother packs a gun in his car in Texas, but it’s for defense–presumably. Isn’t there a certain liklihood he could get angry and kill someone after road rage? Would that mean that me, as a passenger, riding with him, should NOT ride with them and should predict that incident? After all, what about those other robberies that night left someone dead ? Why do I have to *KNOW* that someone else might commit a crime? That’s just plain nonsense. Oh, and it doesn’t matter much the caliber of the gun, does it? Most guns can do a fair bit of damage. And are you telling me that Foster should know that it was *likely* someone would die in an armed robbery because of the caliber of the gun was enough to kill? Depends on whose pulling it off, doesn’t it? Had Brown ever killed anyone before? Had he tried? How many people do you think commit armed robberies each year and have NEVER killed anyone==all with the same caliber of gun?

    The main problem with the Law of Parties is that it makes someone responsible for not predicting what will happen, and that is simply not logical. Brown is the one responsible for that murder, and none of the other men seem to me they had a clue–or at least the attorneys never found it, if it existed. The whole argument hinged on the Law of Parties–which claims it DOES matter–patently absurd and needs to be changed.

    Something else not mentioned: I understand that Lahood’s girlfriend, Mary Parker, supposedly flagged the car down that evening and told them “they must want her because they were following her.” Hmmm.. wonder why SHE didn’t predict a problem if some car was following her? Wonder if she might have predicted that she and others might have been in danger. You failed to mention that she was accused of getting out of her car and flagging them down–and that she may have even started an argument with them– possibility of an argument or that Mary Parker had made any provacative comments at all. That would mean Brown did it enraged at her..which wouldn’t support at all the Law of Parties. Seems everyone presents their story in the best light.

    Still, I have to believe someone said something that night for Brown to have shot Lahood, and as much as I hate to admit it, Lahood and Parker might have shot their mouths off. I would have. If someone was following me or said something to my girlfriend, etc. I wouldn’t have predicted it any more than Mary Parker–or Foster. But what Lahood did was not against the Law, and even what Parker said, though not smart, was not against the LAW. ONLY BROWN stepped out to murder. So why is Foster more culpable than any other people in the car and why could he have foreseen what noone else foresaw that night? Only Brown decided to pull that trigger and only Brown, deserves the punishment.

    Presume the opposite! It’s a neat trick of logic. Presume ll planned to gun someone down? Why would they do that? Did Foster know Lahood or did he even meet Lahood before? Did the prosecution say Foster had some reason to have wanted Lahood dead? No! Because none of that happened, isn’t it? The truth is the Law of Parties is the lucky link between Lahood and Foster. The truth is that it is more than likely that Brown reacted badly to comments, shot Lahood, and is GUILTY and PUNISHED and that Foster and his buddies became linked to a crime they didn’t even know was going to happen.

    As for Foster driving off and not calling 911, whether he hid the gun or didn’t try to ditch it–all of those things are irrelevant to whether he intended to commit the crime or planned it. At most, he tried to cover it, and apparently not well, as the police caught them pretty quickly.

    Bottom line–I think the Law of Parties has become an excuse for a One Stop Shop for Justice in Texas Law. Laws need to take into account who was responsible for which piece, and in this case, as bad as Foster might be for his armed robberies, he is not a murderer. I now rest my case.

  6. Brian DB said on August 27th, 2007 at 2:14pm #

    You have a valid point Mary. However, the USSC in Tison stated the standard very eloquently. A nonshooter can be held liable for murder if he was a major participant and showed reckless disregard for human life.

    Here are direct quotes from Foster’s page:
    “He locked[lacked] the strength and courage to do the right thing in this case and that was own up to what he did.” This was made in reference to Brown. I make this exact claim of Foster. Let’s see how well he’s actually owned up. . .

    “There was very arcane circumstances that caused our paths to cross. The result was a tragedy and I’m truly sorry for that, but in the end I had no control over it and I will not falter in my stance of innocence.”
    “Kenneth had no part in the death of Mr. LaHood. He did make the mistake of not driving away from the argument that was taking place between Mr. LaHood and Mr. Brown.”

    No, when you follow someone for nearly 6 miles into a secluded neighborhood that you had no lawful reason for being there and you turn your car around for no apparent or valid reason, with a mob of armed, doped up, felons who’ve just committed a string of robberies . . . and they commit another robbery where someone gets shot, then you wait for the shooter and peel out, avoiding the police and trying to get rid of the evidence. I’d say you cannot claim you had no control over it. Just because Foster cannot accept his actions and believes he’s innocent doesn’t make him innocent.

    “I was a college student at the time. but, I was immature and subject to peer pressure.”
    “For the foolish mistakes of failing to immediately run away from the group of men who were engaged in criminal activity earlier in the evening”
    “when he never once expected a death to occur as a result of a wrong turn on an unfamiliar street and a flirtation between Mr.Brown and Ms. Patrick.”
    “Foster is being executed as much for choosing the wrong companions
    and not having the courage to say no when they robbed two people
    earlier in the night as he is for driving Brown away from the scene
    after LaHood was murdered.”
    “but none of the evidence presented at the joint trial demonstrated that Kenneth was guilty of capital murder or deserved the death penalty, even under Texas law.”

    No, definitely not. This isn’t a choir boy who met up with these guys that night. They had committed another armed robbery just days before. Foster, himself, was responsible for firing at 3 people in a truck. I tire from hearing him refer to his past as “foolishness” “immature” or “knuckleheads.” I won’t speak for anyone else, but being involved with attempted murder, armed robberies, pistol whippings, and murder isn’t foolishness, immature or knuckleheads. That’s anything but that. Those crimes are despicable. The fact that he refers to such violence as such shows he hasn’t changed about such behavior. To belittle actions that demand such attention and should be respected as violent and potentially fatal is the reason why Foster’s here to begin with. Once again, to rob and terrorize people with a .44 magnum revolver loaded with hollow points where your fellow thugs brandish it and point it directly in the faces of victims can easily result in murder. It’s not a hard concept. I ask anyone to respond: if a 15 year old has a bat and swings it at opposing players’ heads even if they were only trying to scare people, would anyone be suprised if it connected and someone suffered brain damage? No, because it doesn’t take “foresight 20/20″ to know that. Likewise, holding a street cannon and using it to scare people in a situation that not only implicitly but directly tells victims “gimme your money or your life” doesn’t take any sort of foresight to know that the first person that doesn’t hand it over might die.

    “the other two men that sat in the car with me (doing just as i was – sitting there unknowingly) are serving sentences in TDC.”

    What it boils down to is this: for any crime there’s a maximum and minimum penalty that can be sentenced. In capital cases, it’s life or death. There’s many different factors the jury considers before sentencing. Criminal history, involvement, future propensity for violence, etc. Although in my opinion all four were equally culpable and deserve the death penalty, two were most involved for that final robbery/murder: Foster and Brown because they were the driver and the shooter. However, because someone gets a lesser sentence doesn’t mean that someone getting a heavier sentence is wrong. This is for two reasons. One, as I stated the jury considers many factors when giving out a sentence. Therefore, one persons personal involvement or history of violence are considered. Secondly, by pleading guilty to the chargers for a lesser offense, the state is guaranteeing a guilty verdict. In any case that’s tried, there’s the chance that the defendant might go free. Therefore, Foster rolled the dice hoping to get an acquittal. Now he’s crying about it. In every interview he talks about others, killers that’re walking around completely ignoring that he himself is directly guilty of several counts of attempted murder and the robbery/murder of Mike. Instead of addressing his own guilt and innocence, he looks at someone else who received a lighter sentence and is screaming, “see, It’s unfair. Release me.” He’s a victim in every sense of the word. He portrays himself as some brave political warrior, but behind his bold words, you can see that he’s still that self absorbed wolf in sheep’s clothing. Screaming bloody injustice about people who receive a lighter sentence doesn’t prove that something is unfair. So what is his alternative? To set mandatory sentencing for all crimes? For an alleged self-proclaimed voice of the people, his selfishness comes through again. He’d rather everyone go down with him? Ultimately, Foster is and always will be a victim despite the number of lofty words or ideals he talks about. He is and always will be a victim of the Lahoods, the prosecutors, the State, the jury, of everyone else but the one person he should be addressing–himself. If he’s looking for the true source of the “unfairness” he’s suffering, he only needs to look into a mirror.

  7. Brian DB said on August 27th, 2007 at 2:35pm #

    Wish I would’ve seen your comment before I posted . . .
    Julius Steen plead out for a lesser sentence.
    Dewayne Dillard was tried for another murder he was involved with a few weeks before.

    Yes, I have researched that case. There was no shooting back, no shooting first. According to the court records, it was an unprovoked attack, in as much as the need to use deadly violence wasn’t provoked.

    The argument isn’t that people with people carrying guns are liable for anything that happens. The argument isn’t that Foster or Brown set out to premeditate murder. What needs to be established is that they set out intending to rob beyond a reasonable doubt. The murder doesn’t have to be planned. That’s why the court refers to reckless indifference to the life of others and major participant to the robbery during which the murder occurs.

    Trying them together isn’t shady. It’s very common two try codefendants together when the crime charged of arise from the same transaction. Foster was the driver that made it possible and sped him off. Brown was the passenger that pulled the trigger. Evidence of the history of their robberies that night and a few nights before ties them together. The stalking, the turning around, the speeding off are factual claims indicating an intent different than mere innocence.

    To use you and your brother’s example. He carries a gun. No problem, unless you two engage in criminal activity where the gun’s likely to be involved. Then if it’s used in the course of your robbery, then yes you’re liable. People don’t understand the law of parties. Is it perfect, could it be abused? Yes, any law could be. That’s why we have a trial by jurors, and extensive appellate procedures to ensure innocence.

    You mention that Mike or Patrick might’ve run their mouth off leading them to be shot? You’re focusing on the murder. The murder isn’t what needed to be planned. It’s the underlying robbery. Go to westlaw or lexisnexis and pay the 20 bucks to look up Foster’s complete appellate record. You still haven’t addressed the fact that at the gas station they set off looking for another victim. Even if you disbelieve they agreed to it. It’s fact that he followed them for nearly 6 miles. I knew Mike, I drove that route after reading it, it’s nearly 10-15 minutes of following that involves, driving through an intersection, then another, then a right onto a street, through an intersection, then another, then a third, driving under a highway, taking a left onto the access road, getting onto the highway, exiting, turning into a neighborhood, driving through an intersection and another turn. Then driving past the house, turning the car around. Foster, himself, claims it was because there was a dead end. Sorry Foster, no dead end. He stopped the car. You might read this and believe it’s merely coincidental. It doesn’t appear that way to me.

    Speeding him off, trying to get rid of evidence is not proof he pulled the trigger, but it’s evidence he furthered the conspiracy of robbery by trying to get away.

    You asked me about logic. Foster’s own words on his interview as he chuckles when he refers to Brown as a Romeo. Brown gets out of the car at 2am and confronts a man. Let’s presume there was no intent to rob. No one pays attention to this? They had just committed two armed felonies and no one pays attention when their friend gets out to confront a man? Possible, but not probable or credible.

  8. Brian DB said on August 27th, 2007 at 2:45pm #

    No, Foster received deferred adjudication for it. The cruel state of Texas showed him mercy, all he had to do was keep his nose clean. Instead he repaid mercy with armed robberies and murder.

    Pleading out doesn’t inherently mean they’re liars. It goes to the weight of the credibility of the evidence. It was corroborated by Patrick and Sanches who was dropped off. Judicial notice of the distance and the route they took. For instance, when the appellate court considered Dillard’s “new” and “exonerating” evidence, it took notice of the location where they began, where Mike’s house was, and where they were allegedly going.

    The court stated:
    “When viewed by a reasonable finder of fact, the foregoing evidence utterly refutes Dillard’s assertions at Foster’s state habeas hearing that Dillard directed Foster to drive through the residential neighborhood where the LaHood residence was located in an effort to avoid the police while en route to Dillard’s home in extreme North East Bexar County. Assuming the state habeas court had any familiarity whatsoever with the geography of Bexar County, that court would have had no choice but to reject this aspect of Dillard’s testimony at Foster’s state habeas hearing as PATENTLY ABSURD (my capitalization). Given the circuitous nature of the route required to reach the LaHood residence from the location where Foster began following Mary Patrick’s vehicle, only one inference can reasonably be drawn from Foster’s actions: Foster was doing precisely what Steen testified the four co-conspirators were doing…looking for more prey.”

  9. Alexander Billet said on August 27th, 2007 at 5:39pm #

    My god, DB. I can truly see that this has become an obsession for you: screaming for a man’s blood.

    I hand it to you that you are extremely well researched. You also knew LaHood, which I can understand makes it that much more personal. But all of your research comes solely from the side of the state, with a few short statements from Kenneth’s website. You side with a state that has executed more people than any other in the US, including the mentally retarded. And why does Texas execute more people? Are there more murders in TX than nationally? Are there more murders of a brutal nature in TX? No. It is because the death penalty is racist and TX has a long history of racism. Lynching was especially bad there in the 30s.

    Blacks make up 12% of the population in this country, yet they are 40% of all death row inmates. I can only imagine what that number is in Texas. So saying that Kenneth is guilty because the state of TX says he’s guilty is absurd. That’s a state once headed up by men like Alberto Gonzales and George Bush, who were allowed to get away with literal murder during their tenure. Pardon me if I’m not bowled over by the evidence collected by such a state and the way that evidence is interpreted. States are willing to bend laws and evidence and interpretations to their liking whenever they want to. Calling any such state “merciful” is an insult to the concept.

    I have been petitioning for Kenneth here in DC. When I explain the facts to people (yes, including the robberies) they are disgusted that Kenneth might be executed. So far myself and comrades petitioning have met around 500 such people over the past couple weeks. And we’re not even doing it every day or all day for that matter. And personally I’ve met nobody who has told me face to face that he deserves to die.

    I’m not interested in your closure. Personally, I think your version of it is closer to my version of revenge. What I’m interested in is that growing numbers of people in this country are realizing is that the US criminal justice system is racist to the core. And anyone calling for executions under that system is defending that same racism.

  10. Brian DB said on August 28th, 2007 at 12:31pm #

    Alexander, calling my passion an obsession is off the mark. Yes, Mike was a dear friend of mine but what I seek is justice. You disagree with that and therefore it’s injustice to you. However, the versions I read of that night are what I consider injustice. The facts I presented isn’t the State’s closing argument which is an interpretation. The facts are even what Foster doesn’t deny. The problem with using statistics is their manipulable to suit either side a proponent wishes to advance. Raw numbers can be flexed either way and don’t necessarily represent factors underlying them. I’m not defending those numbers, quite frankly, I’m ignorant of their sources (the crimes that were committed). What I mean is are most of the Black and minority capital crimes resulting from armed robberies. Are the white ones revenge killings. What ratio of white defendants on death row are for similar crimes? How was their representation? I must admit, I yearn to learn how many Whites who commit murders during similar armed robberies receive capital punishment. What was their past criminal history? In my opinion, I would need to have a grasp of those facts before I could adequately respond to blanket statistics.

    In addressing your other responses to my comments I don’t know how I could be more clear about them. I will leave out my passion and my interpretation.

    Facts:
    1. They agreed to rob.
    2. They did in fact commit armed robberies twice, involving a total of four victims.
    3. They began to follow two cars for nearly 6 miles. Once entering the neighborhood, there were no street lights. It was dark except for houselights.
    4. They drove past the house, turned around, and stopped at Mike’s
    5. Kenneth Foster, himself, talked about that night with an Austin station. He states that Mauriceo Brown was a Romeo. Therefore, when he left the car at 2am at a stranger’s house to confront a man, he didn’t pay any mind to it at all.
    6. A murder occurred.
    7. He sped off with Brown and tried to get rid of the evidence.
    8. Two nights before all four robbed another man. His stolen cellphones were found in Foster’s trunk.
    9. Foster was on deferred adjudication. Belonged to the Black Disciples. (This plays an important part for the sentencing phase in determining whether he was a future threat to society.)

    Interpretations:
    There’s two interpretations of those uncontested facts. Kenneth Foster says it was coincidence that they followed those two cars. He mentions that Mary Patrick confronted them. Brown acted on his own. He had no knowledge what was going to occur.

    I disagree. I believe, especially after driving that path in the middle of the night, that following someone for that long, into such an out of the way and circuitous route, into a secluded neighborhood that couldn’t’ve led to a route to the northeast side of town, indicates beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an intent to rob. This is furthered by turning around for no valid reason and stopping. I agree, that Mary Patrick confronting them wasn’t part of the plan, and probably rattled them. However, it doesn’t satisfactorily explain those preceding actions, or the actions that followed. I don’t find the explanation that Brown was a Romeo and therefore, Foster didn’t pay attention to him as he confronted a man in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere probable or credible. To put it frankly, although Foster’s rendition is possible, I do not see how it’s probable beyond a reasonable doubt.

    My passion you see results not from people disagreeing that the death penalty shouldn’t be used or apply. It results from comments that Foster is innocent of supporting the robbery, enabling it to occur, and helping to create the circumstances behind it. Some of my dear friends are staunch opponents of the death penalty. I don’t shun opposing views from mine. But yes, I’m passionate about the accuracy of the facts surrounding Mike’s death.

  11. Brian Tierney said on August 28th, 2007 at 1:41pm #

    It seems one could research and analyze the evidence the state and prosecution has compiled and still be left with this very, very simple and obvious fact: the punishment does not fit the crime. Period.

    Foster did not kill anyone. It has been said and admitted over and over and over again. Foster participated in armed robberies and was present at the scene of a murder which we can only assume was committed in the heat of the moment. Should he have foreseen the potential that someone would be killed? Perhaps. But did he? Am I to be convinced by Deatbeat’s arguments that we should execute people for poor judgment? Up until the point of the murder, Foster was guilty of one thing: committing and aiding others in committing armed robberies. Few — except those filled with homicidal vengeance and bloodlust — would argue that such guilt would ever warrant a death sentence. So what damage was done by Foster’s actions? It seems he should have driven away immediately when he heard the gun shots that killed LaHood. If we could say he didn’t and therefore LaHood is dead, then maybe Deadbeat would have an argument. But that isn’t the case. LaHood would be dead regardless of whether or not Foster made the right decision to drive away from the scene without letting the killer back into his car. So the worst that can be said came out of Foster’s poor judgment was that maybe the authorities caught up with Brown later than they would have had Foster not helped Brown escape the scene.

    Is Foster a criminal? Technically, yes. Should he be punished? Ten years on death row seems more than sufficient for armed robbery. Is he a murderer? Not even close.

    It almost seems ludicrous that someone would actually try to defend executing someone who is not guilty of any murder. But it’s difficult to reason with emotion, which is what clearly drives Deadbeat’s arguments. What will Foster’s execution achieve? Deadbeat already pointed it out: “closure” for him and other vindictive individuals who were close to LaHood. The notion that it will deter others from committing similar crimes is something about the death penalty which has been debunked by countless criminal justice studies over the years. So if all the execution will do is provide emotional “closure” for those like Deadbeat, we have to ask if the state has any business spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to satiate that purely emotional obsession. Should that kind of appeasement for the distressed family and friends of the victim be a public service? The state (theoretically) is supposed to act in the interests of society and Foster’s execution will do nothing for the latter — it will only alleviate the vengeful feelings felt by the some of the victim’s friends and family. In any case, Texas already got its man. How many people, Deadbeat, need to be murdered out of vengeance by the state for the murder of one person? Yes, many people were doubtlessly hurt by LaHood’s murder. But, since Foster is also a human being (and one who did not kill LaHood by the way), many people also stand to be hurt if Foster is killed, like his 10 yr old daughter Nydesha (among others) who has spoken out tirelessly with passion for her father’s life.

    The bottom line in this specific debate is that Deadbeat is arguing from a very personalized and emotional vantage point, whereas Billet shows a more societal understanding of the case — the State of Texas, by its very definition as a governmental entity — should be looking at things from the latter perspective. Billet observes that Deadbeat is trying to make Texas seem rational in its actions when everyone knows that state’s notorious reputation for administering death. Any detached observer (which Deadbeat is not) can see how backward and draconian the Law of Parties is, but Deadbeat insists on trying to make it seem reasonable when emotion clearly blocks any solid reason from entering his arguments. Billet is also looking at the case in terms of its systemic implications: the inherent racism of the death penalty (especially in Texas). One would have to be incredible naive to think that if Foster was richer and whiter he would be facing the same punishment that he is now. State-sanctioned murder does not condemn the act of murder but instead tries to legitimize it and consequently reinforces such homicidal thinking among civil society.

    Like LaHood, Foster doesn’t deserve to die.

  12. Brian DB said on August 28th, 2007 at 2:51pm #

    Brian, you resort to insults and scoff at the facts. Facts, mind you, that Foster himself doesn’t deny. The logic behind the Law of Parties comes down to the notion that if individuals choose, and choice is key, to involve themselves in violent crimes, they cannot claim that they didn’t know it was possible when the worst occurs. What is an armed weapon used for? To merely scare victims? No, an armed weapon is present because armed robbery explicitly creates a “money or your life” situation. You mock my beliefs and say I’m blinded by emotion . . . were not only the twelve jurors but also the numerous appellate judges blinded by my passion as well? What it comes down to is this, Brian, we disagree on a fundamental aspect: can a non shooter be culpable for murder. There are many instances where this is done, when one orders it, directs it, or aides it. Where we differ is the conclusions drawn from the evidence I have repeatedly stated. You don’t believe his actions and thus punishment fit his sentence. That’s fine, you have that right. However, I, and I’m not alone mind you, believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Foster’s actions leading to Mike’s murder not only set it up and facilitated the crime but helped to create it too. My stance comes from Foster’s actions: he drove armed robbers to commit robberies. He shared in the proceeds. Does this not make him a robber too? He as the sole driver chose to stalk those cars those 6 miles. He chose to turn the car around. He chose to stop the car to allow Brown to get out. He waited with the car in gear. He peeled out speeding Brown out and tried to get rid of the evidence. But yes, Brian, he didn’t pull the trigger. Mock me, deride me, insult me to your heart’s content. That doesn’t change those facts. Those uncontested facts. Those passionless facts. You infer there wasn’t a robbery. I see something different. The jury saw something different. Countless indifferent and neutral judges saw something different.

    Ultimately, Texas, and I agree, believes that if you are a major participant to an armed felony, then you are culpable for any other felonies that might occur. The courts have noted time and again, that armed robbery implicitly creates a “money or your life” situation. It’s reasonable and foreseeable that someone might die. When in fact someone does die and to later claim, “i didn’t know” is not only incredulous but disingenuous. There’s one other question that I have never received an answer from by either Brown or Foster’s camps. If you’re man is innocent, why has his story changed over the years. It’s pretty much solidified now, but then again, he’s had 11 years to get it right.

  13. Brian DB said on August 28th, 2007 at 3:05pm #

    I thought articles and comment spaces were places to voice opinions. I see that others’ opinions aren’t wanted. That’s fine. You noted that if Foster was whiter or richer he would’ve gotten away with murder. Maybe so and maybe not, but does getting off make him innocent? If that’s the case, then every minority in prison for any crime got railroaded because of their color. Although color may play a role in certain cases, to throw it around loses its effect. Before you throw the race card as loosely as it appears your willing to, investigate if there were any minorities on the jury. This wasn’t a black on white crime. Mike was Lebanese-Mexican.

    Respectfully,
    Brian David
    (Deadbeat)

  14. Alexander Billet said on August 28th, 2007 at 5:44pm #

    I think it’s pretty clear that DB, for all his windbag-isms, has no real case. He relies to facts, most of which are true on their own, but the sum of all facts point the way towards Kenneth’s innocence for one simple reason: He shot nobody.

    Julius Steen, whose testimony the solidity of the Law of Parties relied upon, recanted his testimony later and admitted it had been coerced. He had no reason to believe Brown was getting out of the car with the plan to shoot someone, and neither did Kenneth. His testimony otherwise during trial is invalid. Hence even the merit of a draconian law like the Law of Parties falls through.

    DB’s argument is so full of holes that a swiss-cheese enthusiast couldn’t even swallow it.

    On top of all that, here’s another counter-argument: The following is an article from Sean-Paul Kelley. He too was close to Mike LaHood. If Kelley can be big enough to see the travesty that is Kenneth’s case, then there’s no reason DB can’t too.

    *****

    Kenneth Foster, Jr.: An Innocent Man Texas Will Soon Execute
    By Sean-Paul Kelley

    Get to know this name: Kenneth Foster, Jr. You are going to be hearing a lot of it the next 30 days because I have a personal stake in this matter.

    You see, one night in August 1996 one of my best friends, Michael LaHood, was murdered by Mauriceo Brown. And Kenneth Foster, Jr. was driving for Mauriceo that night. I don’t know what the circumstances of Kenneth’s involvement were beyond the fact that he was still in the car when Mauriceo pulled the trigger that sent a bullet through my friend’s brain, ending his life immediately.

    Was he being forced to drive? Or was he along for the ride? I don’t care. Kenneth deserves and is receiving punishment for his role in the tragedy that occurred that night. But whatever punishment Kenneth does deserve for his role in my friend’s cruel murder, execution should not ever have been (or be) an option. He did not pull the trigger, or encourage Mr. Brown to pull it in any way, nor was he even aware that the murder was being contemplated or had been committed until after the fact. His punishment should not be execution.

    But we are in Texas and in Texas, barbaric laws prevail, like something out of Beowulf or the Old Testament or Reservoir Dogs — one of the very few movies I could not watch to the end for its unspeakable cruelty. Never mind that we are in the 21st century. Never mind that we are supposed to be modern.

    I miss Michael, my dear friend, whom I nicknamed ‘Chainsaw.’ He was a big, musclebound, softhearted jabber-mouth, always talking and always cracking jokes. Mike was full of life. And although he was a body builder I never saw him angry and I never saw him so much as hurt anyone. His joy was infectious — everyone wanted to hang out with Mike and the ladies loved him, although he didn’t quite have the confidence to take advantage of it (yet). Why he chose a long-haired, poetry writing, guitar playing miscreant and reformed pothead/high school dropout like myself I will never know. But I loved him dearly. The only time I ever cheated in college or university was for Mike. He hated poetry and asked if he could use one of my poems for his Freshman Comp? How could I say no?

    I still remember eating chicken fried steak with him and D-Day — the third and most successful leg of our triumviral friendship — at Maggies at 3:00am after clubbing, back when the three of us attended the local junior college, were obsessed with the opposite sex but too stupid to realize they were just as obsessed with us as we were with them. God, how I’d give anything to have him back. Thinking of him brings a tear to my eyes even now. What makes it worse is that I’d returned from living out of the country a few months before he was killed. A new career kept me busy. We kept postponing getting together. My last words to Mike — two weeks before he was murdered — were a cliché for all clichés: “We’ll do it next weekend, buddy, we’ve got all the time in the world.” I couldn’t hear the clock ticking. I wish I’d listened closer.

    And for that I hated Mauriceo and his gang even more, and for a long time. But the execution of a young man who didn’t even kill Mike? That’s not justice. It’s senseless vengeance, a barbarism cloaked in the black robes of justice.

    Never knowing that a friend of one of the men involved in Mike’s murder might reach out to me for help I wrote this two years ago about the death penalty:

    Whenever people ask me about the death penalty I always reply: when you make it to the Pearly Gates, and Saint Peter asks, “justice or mercy?” Which will you choose?

    Usually they sputter or blurt something out like, “The death penalty doesn’t have anything to do with that.” I reply, “The death penalty has everything to do with that. You just can’t see it.”

    Then they say, “What if it happened to someone you know.” And I reply, “In 1996 one of my best friends, Michael LaHood was murdered. And I don’t want his killer to die. I want his killer to repent. And then spend the rest of his life in prison helping other prisoners with less onerous sentences to see the light.”

    That’s when they say, “You’re a softy, wishy-washy feel-good, self-helping liberal wimp.” By that time its too late to ask them, “What requires more courage: revenge or forgiveness?”

    I prefer mercy, wimp or not.

    Kenneth did not ask for my help and he’s already accepted his fate. Someone he helped asked me to help him. I cannot live with myself if I don’t try. Wimp or not.

    He is scheduled to be executed on the 30th of August.

  15. Alexander Billet said on August 30th, 2007 at 2:55pm #

    And today, we’ve won! Long live Kenneth Foster!

  16. April said on September 4th, 2007 at 6:08pm #

    Well now that I’ve read Brian’s comments, I understand a little more how Kenneth is responsible for Michael’s death.

    This kid was not a Boy Scout. If we’re going to decry racism, the evils of capitalism, etc., we also owe it to ourselves to be honest about the effects of those things: they create bad people. This isn’t a contradiction. I’m glad that Kenneth was saved; I think that’s a just outcome. I hope he really is living a model life behind bars. I have to take Alex’s word on this, because I don’t have any other source of information. But I’d better not ever meet the guy in person, because I’m liable to slap him around if I do. I’ve known someone who has spent 30 years in the New York state system for circumstances similar to that of Kenneth. Had the death penalty been in effect at the time of his crime (1977), he would have gone to the chair. I spent 20 years buying this guy’s bullshit about he was completely innocent of the underlying crime, and had nothing to do with the resulting murder. And it may be true, but even his lawyer told me that the guy he’d been hanging out with that night was a “monster.” These things have to make you think. You don’t do stupid things — no matter how you grew up — and then say, “Gee, I didn’t know anything would happen.” And then expect other people to come to your rescue. That’s not living a right life.

    Can we face up to the fact that there are drugs and crime involved in rap and hip hop? A lot of people from the inner city do things that make life worse for their community. I’m all for accepting collective responsibility, but I think individual responsibility goes along with it. That will go a long way toward promoting healing.

    Hey Alex, if you’re looking for someone to lionize, you could seek out a sister named Yvette Cade, right here in D.C. She’s easy to recognize, because her husband burned her face off one day while she was at work, and the first thing she did was to go public, to show people what domestic violence does. That’s courage. Her restraining order had been revoked by Prince Georges County, at her abuser’s request. She was only one of three domestic violence victims in P.G. to get screwed by the courts when they asked for protection from 2004 to 2006, and to end up being killed or seriously hurt.

    I guess I digress — I think this is a good debate. Keep it up, y’all! :)