By LISA SANDBERG, Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry offered a rare reprieve today to a death row inmate who was sentenced to die for a killing he did not personally carry out.
Six hours before Kenneth Foster was scheduled to die, Perry accepted a recommendation from the state board of pardon and paroles and commuted Foster's death sentence to life in prison.
In a statement, Perry said he arrived at "the right and just decision" after carefully reviewing the facts and after considering the board's 6-1 recommendation, which was issued earlier this morning.
Foster, a former gang member from San Antonio, was sentenced to die for being an accessory to the murder of 25-year-old law student Michael LaHood Jr., who was killed in 1996 at age 25. Foster, who was then 19, was the getaway driver in a car some 80 feet away from where one of his buddies shot and killed LaHood during a botched robbery.
Perry specifically cited the fact that Foster was tried, convicted and sentenced directly alongside the triggerman, which could have tainted the jury's punishment choice.
"After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment," Perry said in a statement.
"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."
The seven-member parole board had voted 6-1 to recommend the commutation. Legally, Foster remains a convicted murderer.
Perry was not obligated to accept the highly unusual recommendation from the board whose members he appoints. The commutation is the first in his more than eight years in office this close to an actual execution. The board decision was announced about seven hours before Foster was scheduled to die. Perry's announcement came about an hour later.
Foster acknowledged he and his friends were up to no good as he drove them around San Antonio in a rented car and robbed at least four people before the slaying of LaHood.
"It was wrong," Foster, 30, said recently from death row. "I don't want to downplay that. I was wrong for that. I was too much of a follower. I'm straight up about that."