Texas Governor Goes Wobbly

Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry did one thing right and one thing wrong. First, he toured the state promoting Senate Bill 530, which mandates schools to implement physical activity requirements that include fitness evaluations for all public school students. He made a few stops across the state for ceremonial signings of the bill, which had been sponsored by Texas Senator Jane Nelson.

For several years, Senator Nelson has been a leading proponent of exercise and proper diet for Texas kids. The bill, which had already become effective on June 15 of this year, was a result of her indefatigable efforts toward involving public schools in protecting the health of children. Accompanying them at the event was fitness guru, Dr. Kenneth Cooper of Cooper Clinic fame. This is a good thing because the obesity problem in Texas has been well documented.  According to a national report issued last week by the Trust for National Health, 19.1 percent of Texans 10-17 are obese, putting them at risk of serious chronic illnesses. Texas ranked 6th in the percentage of obese children, ahead of Mississippi, which has the highest overall obesity rate.

Up to that point, Perry was protecting the health and welfare of Texans. But, later that same day, he commuted the sentence of a worthless hoodlum that had already lived for eleven years too long as a guest of the state after being involved in a wild rampage that took the life of a young man in 1996. Kenneth Foster was part of a gun-toting quartet of violent street thugs who had spent the night robbing and pistol-whipping everyone they could find as they terrorized the streets of San Antonio more than a decade ago. At one point during their malevolent crime spree they came across 25 year-old Michael LaHood. When one of the wild animals got impatient because Mr. LaHood was taking too long to hand over his wallet, he fired a bullet through the man's eye. Then the cold-blooded killers drove away as their victim lay in the street with a pool of blood forming around him.

Texas has a very specific and necessary law called the "law of parties," which authorizes the death penalty for those who aided and abetted a crime that ended up taking someone's life. In some states it's known as, "acting in concert," which is merely another name for felony murder. For example, A, B and C go into a bank with guns drawn and demand the money. During the robbery, a nervous teller fumbles with the cash drawer, irritating one of the gang. He shoots her before grabbing the loot and escaping with his confederates. If she dies, all of them are considered to be complicit in the murder. Why? Because they knew, or should have known, that when you brandish weapons during a violent offense (robbery), there is a strong possibility that someone could be killed. If, in fact, a murder is committed, they are all guilty of murder. 

Now, if Mr. Foster, as he claimed later, had no idea that one of his loony friends was homicidal, he could, and should, have reported the murder to the authorities. Although he'd still be considered guilty under the law of parties, he might have a defense against capital punishment. But he didn't report it; he did everything he could to get away with it. Thanks to excellent police work, he and his murderous crew were brought to justice. What followed was the usual protracted series of trials and appeals that allow criminals like Foster to play with the system and bring public attention to his "plight."

While his family members were designing websites for him and protesting the "barbaric" death penalty, his victim had been in a grave for the past 11 years as a result of the barbarism inflicted upon him. He didn't get a chance to appeal his death sentence; for him it was swift and brutal. Mr. LaHood's family didn't get a chance to plead for mercy; they didn't have the opportunity to get a second, third or fourth opinion and they weren't fortunate enough to have the governor weigh in on the decision. Instead, they were instantly catapulted into the most horrific nightmare any family can imagine; they found their loved one on a driveway with half of his head blown off.

So, what did Governor Perry do last week? He held a ceremony for a much-needed physical fitness regimen for Texas children and engaged in another ceremony that commuted a death sentence to life. The credit for the fitness bill goes to Senator Jane Nelson; the credit for sparing the life of a killer belongs solely to Perry. He got wobbly at the last minute and succumbed to the protests. I guess the victim's family didn't have a website. Instead, they relied on the law to takes its course.

That was their big mistake.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.
Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry did one thing right and one thing wrong. First, he toured the state promoting Senate Bill 530, which mandates schools to implement physical activity requirements that include fitness evaluations for all public school students. He made a few stops across the state for ceremonial signings of the bill, which had been sponsored by Texas Senator Jane Nelson.

For several years, Senator Nelson has been a leading proponent of exercise and proper diet for Texas kids. The bill, which had already become effective on June 15 of this year, was a result of her indefatigable efforts toward involving public schools in protecting the health of children. Accompanying them at the event was fitness guru, Dr. Kenneth Cooper of Cooper Clinic fame. This is a good thing because the obesity problem in Texas has been well documented.  According to a national report issued last week by the Trust for National Health, 19.1 percent of Texans 10-17 are obese, putting them at risk of serious chronic illnesses. Texas ranked 6th in the percentage of obese children, ahead of Mississippi, which has the highest overall obesity rate.

Up to that point, Perry was protecting the health and welfare of Texans. But, later that same day, he commuted the sentence of a worthless hoodlum that had already lived for eleven years too long as a guest of the state after being involved in a wild rampage that took the life of a young man in 1996. Kenneth Foster was part of a gun-toting quartet of violent street thugs who had spent the night robbing and pistol-whipping everyone they could find as they terrorized the streets of San Antonio more than a decade ago. At one point during their malevolent crime spree they came across 25 year-old Michael LaHood. When one of the wild animals got impatient because Mr. LaHood was taking too long to hand over his wallet, he fired a bullet through the man's eye. Then the cold-blooded killers drove away as their victim lay in the street with a pool of blood forming around him.

Texas has a very specific and necessary law called the "law of parties," which authorizes the death penalty for those who aided and abetted a crime that ended up taking someone's life. In some states it's known as, "acting in concert," which is merely another name for felony murder. For example, A, B and C go into a bank with guns drawn and demand the money. During the robbery, a nervous teller fumbles with the cash drawer, irritating one of the gang. He shoots her before grabbing the loot and escaping with his confederates. If she dies, all of them are considered to be complicit in the murder. Why? Because they knew, or should have known, that when you brandish weapons during a violent offense (robbery), there is a strong possibility that someone could be killed. If, in fact, a murder is committed, they are all guilty of murder. 

Now, if Mr. Foster, as he claimed later, had no idea that one of his loony friends was homicidal, he could, and should, have reported the murder to the authorities. Although he'd still be considered guilty under the law of parties, he might have a defense against capital punishment. But he didn't report it; he did everything he could to get away with it. Thanks to excellent police work, he and his murderous crew were brought to justice. What followed was the usual protracted series of trials and appeals that allow criminals like Foster to play with the system and bring public attention to his "plight."

While his family members were designing websites for him and protesting the "barbaric" death penalty, his victim had been in a grave for the past 11 years as a result of the barbarism inflicted upon him. He didn't get a chance to appeal his death sentence; for him it was swift and brutal. Mr. LaHood's family didn't get a chance to plead for mercy; they didn't have the opportunity to get a second, third or fourth opinion and they weren't fortunate enough to have the governor weigh in on the decision. Instead, they were instantly catapulted into the most horrific nightmare any family can imagine; they found their loved one on a driveway with half of his head blown off.

So, what did Governor Perry do last week? He held a ceremony for a much-needed physical fitness regimen for Texas children and engaged in another ceremony that commuted a death sentence to life. The credit for the fitness bill goes to Senator Jane Nelson; the credit for sparing the life of a killer belongs solely to Perry. He got wobbly at the last minute and succumbed to the protests. I guess the victim's family didn't have a website. Instead, they relied on the law to takes its course.

That was their big mistake.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. Email Bob.