In the last session of the Texas Legislature, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 2267) that would have banned executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties. The Law of Parties provision of HB 2267 was taken out of the bill in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee after Governor Perry threatened to veto it if the bill was sent to him in the same form that it had passed the House. The revised version, which would have only required separate trials for co-defendants in capital trials, then died in the Senate when it did not come up for a vote on the floor before the deadline.
The reason for TMN’s concern was a quote in the Austin American Statesman from Williamson County Attorney John Bradley. He said in the Austin American-Statesman: “To exempt all defendants in capital cases because they didn’t pull the trigger “is irrational,” said Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. “Under that reasoning, Hitler, Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson could never get the death penalty. You have to look at the facts of each case … whether their participation merits holding them culpable”.
The problem with Bradley’s comments is that people like Hitler, Manson and Osama bin Laden would not have been prosecuted under Section 7.02(b) of Texas’ Law of Parties, which is the section that would have been affected by HB 2267. Furthermore, for those people who are and would continue to be prosecuted under section 7.02 (b) (again not Hitler, Manson or bin Laden), HB 2267 would still have held them culpable, it just would have limited the maximum punishment for non-killers convicted solely under that section to life in prison without parole.
HB 2267 said
A defendant who is found guilty in a capital felony case only as a party under Section 7.02(b), Penal Code, may not be sentenced to death, and the state may not seek the death penalty in any case in which the defendant’s liability is based solely on that section.
Bradley’s statement was one of the most absurd, irresponsible comments by an elected legal professional trying to justify a political agenda that we have ever heard.
The Law of Parties in section 7.02 (b) says “If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy”.
That section, together with Article 37.0711 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, allows the state to prosecute and sentence to death people who have no intent to kill and who in fact do not kill anyone, people like Kenneth Foster, Jr and Jeff Wood.
Section 7.02 (b) would not have applied to Hitler, Manson or bin Laden because those three did not conspire to commit one felony such as robbery and then someone was killed during the course of the robbery. Manson, Hitler and bin Laden conspired to commit murder, so they could have been prosecuted under other sections of the Law of Parties statute that would have remained unchanged by HB 2267. In fact, section 7.02 would have also remained unchanged under HB 2267, so people could still have been convicted under that section. They just would have received life without parole instead of death.
Law of Parties cases are very rare. There have been only 3 Law of Parties executions in Texas out of the total of 443 executions, which is less than one percent.
“Misinformation given out by an elected county attorney like John Bradley to push his political agenda is appalling. Bradley’s past propaganda-like misinformation regarding the Law of Parties brings the reliability and trustworthiness of his testimony in today’s hearing into question. The people of Texas should be concerned whether Bradley can be trusted to conduct an unbiased investigation into the scientific validity of the arson investigation and analysis methods used by prosecutors to convict and execute Todd Willingham”, said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.