In order to influence and enforce long-term, purposeful change to our criminal justice system, we need a co-operative, a togetherness, like never before. The UK justice system, compares somewhat to the system in the USA. In fact, we have quite a lot in common with our American cousins, most things, unlike our respective justice systems, are positive and mutually beneficial, which creates a strong relationship, one I am personally proud of. However, there is a comparison which is; not positive, one I am neither proud of, or, that is mutually beneficial. I can’t see how it benefits anyone to be honest. And, in an ironic twist, it is also a comparison that evokes togetherness, albeit for the wrong reasons. I am talking about what we know in the UK as ‘Joint Enterprise’ and in the US as ‘The Law of Parties’. (click on the links to read more about the respective laws. I have also included some relevant UK and USA links at the end of this blog)
Fortunately, there is an extremely negative aspect of the US justice system that we no longer share. In the UK, the last execution was by hanging in 1964. The death penalty (capital punishment) was abolished, here, for murder in 1965. (Northern Ireland was 1973).
I have mentioned before that I deserved every second of every year of my prison time, guilty as charged, part of the game. Even though prison wasn’t a desired destination, the law of averages dictated I would end up there. But, even under those circumstances, I still found prison hard. It is not the holiday camp some of society think it is. Over the years I spent in prison, I became institutionalised and found prison comforting, safe even. A situation made easier by my guilt, my acceptance of being in prison?
The Case of Kenneth Foster Jr.
On August 30, 2007, Kenneth Foster Jr. was scheduled to be executed. A decade before, at the age of 20, he was sentenced to death for the murder of Michael Lahood, although the state acknowledged Foster to be factually innocent of the crime. Foster was subject to a controversial Texas statute known as the law of parties. The law imposes the death penalty on anybody involved in a crime where a murder occurred. In Foster’s case he was driving a car with three passengers, one of whom left the car on an independent impulse and shot LaHood dead. Due to the two robberies the group performed earlier in the evening (in which Foster was the getaway driver) it was not difficult to conduct a zealous prosecution in which Foster was tried jointly with the shooter and was regarded just as guilty in the eyes of Texas law for letting Mauriceo Brown back into the vehicle and fleeing the scene.
What makes this case unique?
Foster, as the getaway driver, was tried alongside the actual shooter Mauriceo Brown in a joint trial. The judge, trial prosecutor, and jury that sentenced Kenneth to die admitted that he didn’t conspire to kill anyone. Brown was executed in 2006. Foster is yet to receive his own trial in which he would stand for his actions alone.
After exhausting all of his appeals, Foster was given a date of execution, giving the international network that he’d spent his 10 years on death row building but three months to act. Of its 400 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the State of Texas commuted but one.Without clemency from the governor (who’d never given one before) Foster’s fate was lethal injection. Hence, a serious public outcry in the form of protests, rallies, sit ins and a letter writing campaign reverberated in the chambers of Governor Rick Perry. Once the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 6 to 1 in Kenneth’s favour, it became politically untenable to apply a punishment of this magnitude for Foster’s crime. Five hours before Foster was to die by lethal injection, Rick Perry commuted his death sentence to a life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. He is to serve an additional 30 years in prison.
This is part one of a series of six interviews KXAN had with Kenneth when he was a prisoner on Death Row awaiting his execution. (I have included links to the other 5 interviews at the end of this blog)
‘Daddy’s Glass House’ is the story of Kenneth and the ardent efforts worldwide to help free him from a Texas prison. Stirring the minds and hearts of thousands, including a growing number of high school students at the Bronx Academy of Letters, where world travelled poet and children’s author Samantha Thornhill teaches poetry writing. The name of the film is in fact inspired by a poem of hers that a supporter found online and sent to Kenneth while he was on death row. This poem moved Kenneth to write Thornhill a letter, sparking a pen friendship between two unlikely poets. With eight years and hundreds of letters between them, Thornhill and Foster together are building a campaign to free him and prevent others like him from ever seeing the inside of a prison cell. Here’s a trailer for this excellent and deeply emotional documentary ‘Daddy’s Glass House’.
Only one thing left to say:
Free Kenneth Foster
Kenneth on Netflix!
There is a new documentary series on Netflix called “I am a killer”, one of the episodes is about Kenneth, it is called “Killer in the eyes of the law”(episode 2). This is the link, although, not yet available here in the UK. https://www.netflix.com/watch/kenneth
Some of the information contained within this blog has been extracted, with kind permission, from Kenneth’s official website: www.freekenneth.com, click on link to read more on Kenneth, his case and ‘The Law of Parties’
KXAN interviews with Kenneth:
Further information on: