Former Texas Governor Mark White has recently been in the news because he has changed his mind on the death penalty and now believes that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is an acceptable substitute for the death penalty as a way “to make certain we didn’t have unfortunate execution of an innocent person”, (NPR, October 21, 2009, “Former Texas Governor Rethinks Death Penalty“).

Our question to Mark White, “Do you still think that someone convicted under the Law of Parties but who himself did not kill or intend anyone to be killed deserves the death penalty?” “Governor White, do you regret signing off on the execution of somone who did not kill anyone?”

One of the people executed when Mark White was governor was a person who had been convicted under the Law of Parties, but who did not himself kill anyone or intend that anyone be killed. Doyle Skillern was executed on January 16, 1985. Skillern’s case is similar to the cases of Kenneth Foster, Jr and Jeff Wood, in that all three of them, in their separate cases many years apart, were sitting in a car when a co-defendant killed someone. Skillern’s co-defendant, Charles Sanne, testified that he (Sanne) was the triggerman, and that fact was not in dispute, as you can read in Skillern’s appeal in the U.S. Fifth Circuit. The appeal also explains that

the charge emphasized that capital murder requires that the accused “intentionally kills or causes the death of another” while in the course of robbing another, paragraphs 6 and 7 of the charge permitted the jury to find Skillern guilty of the triggerman Sanne’s killing, under the Texas law of criminal responsibility, as a conspirator in a robbery attempt equally guilty of the murder by his coconspirator if the killing “was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose [of the robbery] and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy.”

From The Nation – Texan Executed for Killing:

Doyle Skillern, condemned to die for a murder in which the confessed triggerman may soon go free, was executed by lethal injection for the 1974 slaying of Patrick Randel, an undercover narcotics officer. Skillern, 48, died at 12:23 a.m. CST in the Huntsville, Tex., death chamber. Both Gov. Mark White and the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected a reprieve. Testimony showed that Skillern waited in a car while Charles Sanne, 51, shot Randel. Sanne was sentenced to life in prison.

Would Governor White testify in favor of a bill in the next session of the Texas Legislature that would ban executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties? In the last session of the Texas Legislature, such a bill was authored by Rep Terri Hodge and it passed the entire Texas House but died in the Senate after Governor Perry threatend to veto it if it reached his desk. The bill would have banned executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties.

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