There must be something in the Texas water that encourages overreaching by those coming up the ranks of the executive branch. Take current Governor Rick Perry for example. The dust swirling around his decision to move forward with the execution of a man many believe was innocent has not yet even settled and now the Governor has blood on his hands. Again.
In an extremely unusual move the Texas Governor rejected a rare clemency recommendation from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles for Robert Lee Thompson and moved forward with his execution. Thompson was an accomplice in a 1996 Houston convenience store robbery that turned deadly. Thompson admitted firing his gun at the clerk, but it was Thompson’s accomplice Sammy Butler who fired the fatal shot. The two men were charged together but tried separately. Butler was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parol. A different jury sentenced Thompson to death.
The sentencing disparity is a result of a particularly harsh Texas statute known as the Law of Parties. The statute allows multiple parties to be found guilty of the same crime, even if they did not directly participate in the crime charged. Think of it as an overreach of the legal concepts of accomplice and conspirator liability. Many other states have similar statutes, sometimes also known as felony murder statutes. According to the Texas statute, “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.”
These kinds of laws pose all sorts of theoretical problems for legal scholars, as the bedrock of substantive criminal law holds that, in cases other than “status” offenses like underage drinking, a person cannot and should not be held legally accountable for crimes unless they have both a guilty mind (intent to commit the crime) and guilty actions (steps taken in furtherance of that intent).
The Texas Legislature has made efforts to roll back the Law of Parties, but so far those efforts have proven mostly futile. The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill to ban executions of people convicted under the Law of Parties who did not actually kill anyone. Unfortunately the legislation never made it out of the Senate. Hence the Thompson case.
No other Texas Governor has executed as many citizens as Governor Perry. This summer he signed off on his 200th execution. It is a position Perry brags about. His critics accuse the Governor of playing politics with the death penalty, and one would be hard pressed for evidence from Perry himself to rebut such a claim.
According to AP reports, Thomas was executed at 6:00 p.m. on November 19th as his mother cried uncontrollably, stomped her feet, and demanded to be taken from the witness area before her son was pronounced dead.
You’ve got to wonder just how far a re-election campaign can run on the blood of Texas citizens. Looks like Governor Perry is giving us a chance to find out.
photo courtesy of megananne via Flickr