An interview with Kenneth Foster

One year after a struggle that won

By: Laura Brady

It's been one year since a declaration of victory resounded in Texas: Kenneth Foster Lives! 

Kenneth had been sentenced to death in 1997 under Texas' unique application of the "Law of Parties," a draconian statute that allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a person, even if they did not kill someone.

Kenneth was in a car, 85 feet away, with the windows rolled up, when Michelle LaHood was shot and killed. Yet Kenneth, along with the shooter, were both sentenced to death. Under the "Law of Parties" Kenneth is held as responsible as the shooter because he should have "anticipated" this crime could occur. 

Last year, after a decade of struggle, activists and family celebrated when Kenneth's sentence was commuted to life in prison just hours before his scheduled execution. His first chance at parole won't be until after serving a 40-year sentence.

Following a 6-1 recommendation in favor of commutation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Gov. Rick Perry, in an unprecedented move, responded to the tremendous political pressure emanating from a viable grassroots movement . 

As we move toward the one-year anniversary of this historic achievement, we celebrate the recent stay of execution of Jeff Wood, who was also convicted under the "Law of Parties" and who also came within hours of his own state-sponsored murder on August 21, 2008. The continued fight against the "Law of Parties" plays a vital role in the struggle to abolish the death penalty.

Kenneth Foster spoke with Laura Brady of the Austin CEDP chapter. 

Can you describe what this past year has been like for you? Has your day-to-day living quality improved? 

This past year has been like a purgatory for me. The truth is, though I left death row, the injustices in prison have not ceased. Thus, I continue to battle against the bias and oppression of prisoners.

My living conditions have changed, thus far, only slightly (e.g., better food, laundry and being able to recreate with others). But due to my past activities on death row (with DRIVE and other issues), I have been discriminated against and restricted to the lowest General Population level: G5 line 3. My attorneys have faced harassment; I've had visits denied and level promotion denied. We address each of these things as they occur. 

Ironically enough, I am set to be reviewed for my next level on August 30. Once that is granted, I will have access to more privileges: contact visits, school, jobs, walking freely among the unit.

All of this is just a reminder to what they will always stand for, but as always declared: Repression Breeds Resistance, and we'll fight until the end. 

Being another victim of Texas's 'Law of Parties', what are your thoughts on the case of Jeff Wood? 

What I think about Jeff Wood's case is what I thought since the first day I began my plight--there are many more Law of Parties cases in the system and as long as the Law of Parties exists in the form it's in, cases like mine and Jeff's will continue to pile up.

This is why I urge people to not let go of this Law-of-Parties fight until we change it. Otherwise, they'll continue to send people like Jeff and me to death row. I always said that defeating the Law of Parties would not abolish the death penalty in itself, but it's another brick in the wall of capital punishment that needs to be taken out, so we can weaken it and finally make it crumble. 

I plead to every person reading this to sign Jeff's petitions and also support the actions his people put forth. To abandon Jeff is to abandon everything I sacrificed for and went through. He is me, and I am him, and without you, we will surely not exist.

What has the victory of the Save Kenneth Foster Campaign meant to you? What do you think it has meant to the anti-death penalty movement as a whole? 

Other than the obvious--that I get to live and flourish and work toward all my goals and visions for the many movements we represent--it represents the fact that that when thoughts, prayers and actions come together, we can manifest results (that which people mistakenly call "miracles").

As for the anti-death-penalty movement as a whole, this was a victory in the heart of the killing machine. It was a spark in the prairie and, if used as a model, can kindle many more fires of resistant victories! 

Kenneth Foster Jr., #1451768
McConnell Unit
3001 S. Emily Dr.
Beeville, TX 787102