No one Should Be Put to Death for Driving A Car

Saving Kenneth Foster, part 2:

From The Austin Chronicle—March 25, 2005
Foster death sentence overturned
As reported last week, San Antonio federal District Judge Royal Furgeson on March 3 overturned the death sentence of Kenneth Foster, convicted as the getaway driver in the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood Jr., outside the LaHood family residence north of downtown. Foster was one of four implicated in the alleged botched robbery attempt that led to LaHood’s death; though he was not the triggerman, and played no direct role in LaHood’s murder, he was convicted for the crime under the state’s law of parties. In invoking that statute, prosecutors had to prove that Foster and his cohorts agreed to commit armed robbery, and that they should’ve anticipated that their risky behavior might cause LaHood’s death. In Foster’s case, the jury agreed that Foster should’ve foreseen that the reckless actions of his acquaintance, Mauriceo Brown, could result in LaHood’s murder. As such, they convicted Foster and sentenced him to die. In a 95-page opinion, Furgeson denied each of the claims Foster made in connection to his underlying guilt – including that the evidence was insufficient to determine that he should’ve anticipated LaHood’s death – still, he determined that Foster’s death sentence is unconstitutional. While evidence of Foster’s tangential involvement in the crime was proof enough to convict him, Furgeson wrote, it was not sufficient to warrant a death sentence. “There was no evidence … before Foster’s sentencing jury which would have supported a finding that Foster either actually killed LaHood or that Foster intended to kill LaHood or another person,” he wrote. “Therein lies the fundamental constitutional defect in Foster’s sentence.” The jury could’ve reached the decision that Foster harbored some intent to kill LaHood, but they “were not asked to do so,” he wrote. “Therefore, Foster’s death sentence is not supported by the necessary factual findings mandated [by the U.S. Supreme Court] and, for that reason, cannot withstand Eighth Amendment scrutiny.”
In denying Foster’s earlier appeal, the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals “attempted to side-step the … Constitutional defect in Foster’s death sentence, suggesting that the jury’s finding of Foster’s guilt under the Texas law of parties necessarily implied a finding that Foster intended to kill LaHood,” he wrote. But while there was ample evidence to suggest that Foster intentionally “aided and abetted” Brown’s attempt to rob LaHood, there was “no evidence showing Foster intentionally encouraged, directed, aided, or attempted to aid Brown’s murder of LaHood,” as required in order to pass constitutional muster. In Foster’s case the state allowed the jury to impose death without making a determination about Foster’s intent, the judge wrote. “Foster’s death sentence can be justified only by jury findings that Foster both played a major role in the criminal conspiracy that resulted in LaHood’s murder and acted with reckless disregard for human life.” Because the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that only a jury may make factual determinations related to punishment, Furgeson wrote, “The Eighth Amendment precludes the State of Texas from executing Foster.”  Furgeson’s ruling gives the state 90 days to either offer Foster a new sentencing trial, with a new jury, or to vacate his death sentence and impose a life sentence. In the meantime, the state is expected to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. (For more on the case, see “Wrong Place, Wrong Time,” Feb. 11.) On Oct. 2nd, 2006; this sentence was overturned once more and Kenneth still sits on Death Row awaiting a date of execution.


Campaign Steps Up to Save Kenneth Foster (part 1)

Part I: Kenneth Foster: Scheduled To Die for Driving a Car
On August 30, 2007, Texas, the state that executes more people than any in the country, plans to deliver a lethal injection to Kenneth Foster, Jr.  While this may seem like nothing out of the ordinary for a state that will perform its 400th execution this summer, Kenneth’s case is unique.  He killed no one.  The state of Texas will be the first to admit this.
How is such a thing possible?  Indeed, conventional wisdom tells us that the death penalty is reserved for the worst of the worst.  It seems unthinkable, then, that a man who did not even touch the gun that tragically ended the life of Michael LaHood, Jr. on August 14, 1996 in San Antonio, Texas would be sent to his death for such a crime.  What makes this possible is the Law of Parties.
Several states across the country have laws that enable prosecutors to hold those present at the scene of a crime legally responsible if they aided in its execution.  Texas is the only capital punishment state with such a statute, making it the only place in the United States where a person can be factually innocent of murder and still face the death penalty.  Specifically, the Law of Parties holds individuals accountable for the crimes of others if they were physically present, whether they were a party to the crime or simply should have anticipated that it would happen.
On August 14, 1996, Kenneth Foster was driving a car carrying Mauriceo Brown, Dewayne Dillard, and Julius Steen.  Brown and Steen committed two armed robberies before, on Kenneth’s insistence, they began to head home.  After accidentally turning down a dead-end street, they found themselves behind another car whose occupants lived in the neighbourhood.  Concerned that they were being followed, the occupants of the car parked and waved the four men to the side of the road.  Kenneth parked and Brown exited the car. Words were exchanged, a shot was fired, and Michael LaHood, Jr. was dead.
The contents of this packet shed light on the events of August 14, 1996, the trial of Kenneth Foster, and the contents and flaws of the Texas Law of Parties.  During his ten years on death row, Kenneth’s case has generated a broad coalition of supporters who are working hard to save his life.  It is our hope that you will find the following information compelling enough to warrant significant media coverage.
Texas’s death row is full of compelling stories.  But Texas remains the most striking holdout on reform as the entire country is calling the practice of capital punishment into question.  Kenneth’s case raises vital questions, not only about the Law of Parties, but also about the practice of capital punishment in Texas.
It is our belief that the Law of Parties not only creates an alarmingly low threshold of proof when a defendant’s life is on the line, but was also grossly misapplied in Kenneth’s individual case.  He may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but is hardly deserving of a death sentence. This extraordinary case deserves widespread attention.

Russian Cement Workers on Strike:

 This from my beloved in Moscow.


On Tuesday, June 26, workers at Mikhailov Cement (a Eurocement company) are going on strike over wage demands. These workers are undertaking one of the first labor campaigns in the construction industry devoted to raising wages and improving workers’ living conditions.  Making an average of 3800 to 7500 rubles a month (around $150 to just under $300), working weekends and holidays, and facing constant increases in the cost of living, these workers have decided to demand more. Against them stands an employer who has a monopoly on cement production in European Russia.

Workers at Mikhailov Cement have been struggling for better conditions now for a month. They conducted a one-hour work stoppage in May, completely ignored by local media and scoffed at by their employer. Living in a company village, they have endured pressure from all sides, including the harassment of their children at school and a temporary lockout under the guise of making repairs to the factory. Yet workers are standing strong, having decided that as the price of cement has gone up, and profits with it, it is time for them to stand up and demand fair pay for their work.

What you can do:

1) Send a fax to M.A. Skorokhod, president of Mikhailov Cement’s parent company, Eurocement, at 011-7-495-737-5510 or 011-495-795-2581 (24 hours); or to the Office of Community Relations at 011-7-495-737-5776 (business hours). Tell Eurocement that you support the workers at Mikhailov Cement and their demands for better pay, and that you condemn any retaliation against workers who have participated in the dispute. (It is all right to send messages in English.)

2) Send workers your messages of encouragement and support. For messages in English, send to <>  (for translation and forwarding). For messages in Russian, send to or

Professor supportive of Finkelstein is fired, despite strong reviews

DePaul Professor Who Supported Finkelstein Also Was Denied Tenure
Chronicle of Higher Ed. June 12


DePaul professor who supported Finkelstein also was denied tenure

Another professor at DePaul University was rejected for tenure at the same time as Norman G. Finkelstein, and she believes her advocacy for the embattled political scientist may have derailed her career.

“There is no good explanation for why I was denied tenure,” Mehrene E. Larudee, an assistant professor of international studies, said in an interview on Monday. “So one has to look elsewhere.”

Praised as “outstanding” by the dean of her college and recommended unanimously by distinguished faculty peers during the tenure process, Ms. Larudee was 19 days away from becoming director of DePaul’s program in international studies when she learned on Friday of the decision against her.

She and the program’s current director, Michael A. McIntyre, had been discussing the responsibilities she would be assuming when he received, via e-mail, a letter from DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider.

“Hey, this is great, I’ll get to congratulate Mehrene right now,” Mr. McIntyre recalls thinking, until he read the letter. “Our jaws just dropped, hit the floor, when we saw the decision went the other way,” he said.

In the letter, Father Holtschneider said that the University Board on Faculty Promotion and Tenure had decided against awarding tenure to Ms. Larudee and that he accepted that decision.

Ms. Larudee suggested that her active participation in a committee that formed to defend Mr. Finkelstein may have biased administrators against her own tenure case.

A university official denied that there was any connection between the two cases. “I want to emphasize that our faculty-review process assures that every case is evaluated independently, on its own merits,” said Denise Mattson, a spokeswoman. “No cases are linked in any way.”

According to Father Holtschneider’s letter, Ms. Larudee demonstrated a “strong service record” but would not receive tenure because of “mixed teaching evaluations, at times below the departmental mean, a thin record of scholarship.”

Mr. McIntyre declined to comment on whether Ms. Larudee’s advocacy work may have affected the tenure decision, but he dismissed the tenure board’s reasoning and said, “I’m just shocked that unanimous recommendations would be overturned with a sentence that doesn’t even scan grammatically and has no real substance.”

He confirmed Ms. Larudee’s account that Charles S. Suchar, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, had given her the strongest possible endorsement in her most recent merit review, in March, and said Mr. Suchar had approved her as the international-studies program’s next director. “That indicated the level of his confidence in her tenure case,” he said.

Mr. Suchar was not available for comment on Monday.

Anne Clark Bartlett, who is president of the universitywide Faculty Council and a professor of English, said she was surprised by the decision. It’s “fairly unusual for someone to be turned down at a higher level after being upheld at a lower level” of the tenure process, she said. “I think people are still coming to terms with what this means,” she said.

Gil Gott, who is chair of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Governance Council and an associate professor of international studies, said in an e-mail message that the decision against Ms. Larudee was “devastating to international studies.” Mr. Gott emphasized that he was commenting as an individual and not as a university official.

While Mr. Suchar wrote a letter in favor of Ms. Larudee’s tenure, he had recommended that the university reject Mr. Finkelstein’s bid (The Chronicle, June 11).

Mr. Finkelstein, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, has generated controversy through his criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. He has accused some prominent Jews and Jewish groups of exploiting the Holocaust for personal gain and has publicly feuded with Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard University who is an ardent defender of Israel. Mr. Dershowitz sent members of DePaul’s law and political-science faculties a dossier attacking Mr. Finkelstein last fall (The Chronicle, April 5).

The Faculty Governance Council voted unanimously last November to send a letter to administrators to “express the council’s dismay at Professor Dershowitz’s interference in Finkelstein’s tenure and promotion case.”

Mr. Gott said on Monday that he and others had been “assured that the integrity of the process would be protected.”

“However,” he continued, “to my knowledge, no specific protections were introduced to remedy already-existing problems, such as any lingering false impressions that Alan Dershowitz’s packet may have created in the minds of faculty members or administrators who served on or influenced decision-making bodies in the case.”

On Monday, about two dozen students convened at Father Holtschneider’s office and waited in a conference room during the day until the president met with them about the decision to deny Mr. Finkelstein tenure, Ms. Mattson said. “They shared a frank exchange of views regarding this year’s tenure decisions,” she said. The president told the students he would not contravene the University Board on Faculty Promotion and Tenure’s decision.

Ms. Larudee says her own support of Mr. Finkelstein is consistent with the university’s commitment to social justice and humanitarian issues. “I’m devoted to these principles,” she said.

Ms. Larudee is a non-Jewish member of the Chicago chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization that seeks to influence American foreign policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In late March, she joined a committee to defend Mr. Finkelstein against attacks and began contacting national figures who might help.

Now she’s looking for help, but a meeting she requested with the university’s provost stalled initially because his staff said he would only meet with her alone. Late Monday, she received a message from the provost indicating he would meeting with her and a colleague. She says she won’t accept the tenure decision: “I expect to fight.”

Students Sit In at DePaul, Call for Reversal of Decision to Fire Finkelstien

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing to give you an update on the Norman Finkelstein bid for tenure. As many of you have heard a denial letter was issued to Dr. Finkelstein on Friday June 8, 2007. Due to the efforts of students and alumni, on Monday June 11, 2007, the DePaul President, Fr. Holtschneider, met with the us for an hour and half. Demands were issued, namely calling for the President to reverse the tenure decision of both Dr. Finkelstein and Dr. Larudee, an international studies professor who was denied tenure with no clear explanation as to the reason and a glowing review from all levels of the tenure process, however she has been an avid supporter of Finkelstein throughout this whole ordeal.

None of the students demands were met and as a result they are sitting in the President’s office indefinitely. Many student spent the night there last night and will continue to do so until their demands are met. This level of dedication and courage requires tremendous support from the community at large.

This is clearly an academic freedom issue, but additionally, it is an Israel-Palestine issue. The University is attempting to suppress and silence these professors and their ability to reach students year in and year out, simply because they have stood up for the right of Palestinians to attain justice and criticized the state of Israel.

Tomorrow, Wedneday June 13, 2007, the Faculty Counsel at DePaul is meeting with the Vice President of DePaul in order to discuss the option of an appeal, something the University has denied is available to either Professor. There will be a rally outside the building where the students are sitting in and the meeting will take place.  The rally is scheduled to begin at 11am at the south-east corner of Jackson and Wabash in the loop, 55 E. Jackson.

All parties involved are aware that this will be an ongoing effort and if you are unable to come tomorrow we encourage you to come throughout the week. As indicated the students have no intention of making a major compromise and leaving the President’s offices.

A number of articles have been written in national publications about this issue.  I encourage you to read the two most recent in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Norman Finkelstein denied tenure

This is a dark day for academic freedom.

From June 8 Chronicle of Higher Education:

June 8, 2007

DePaul Rejects Tenure Bid by Finkelstein and Says Dershowitz Pressure Played No Role

Norman G. Finkelstein, the controversial political scientist who has been engaged in a highly public battle for tenure at DePaul University, learned today that he had lost that fight. In a written statement released to The Chronicle, the university confirmed that Mr. Finkelstein had been denied tenure.

Mr. Finkelstein’s department and a college-level personnel committee both voted in favor of tenure, but the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences wrote a memorandum against it, and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure voted against granting tenure. The final decision rested with the university’s president, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, who said in the statement that he had found “no compelling reasons to overturn” the tenure board’s recommendation.

“I played by the rules, and it plainly wasn’t enough to overcome the political opposition to my speaking out on the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Mr. Finkelstein said in an interview. “This decision is not going to deter me from making statements that, so far as I can tell from the judgment of experts in the field, are sound and factually based.”

Mr. Finkelstein’s case has excited widespread interest, in part because of the involvement of Alan M. Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard University. The two scholars have sparred repeatedly in public. Last fall, Mr. Dershowitz sent members of DePaul’s law and political-science faculties what he described as “a dossier of Norman Finkelstein’s most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions.”

Informed of the news this evening, Mr. Dershowitz said, “It was the right decision, proving that DePaul University is indeed a first-rate university, not as Finkelstein characterized it, ‘a third-rate university.’ Based on objective standards of scholarship, this should not have even been a close case.”

In the DePaul statement, Father Holtschneider decried the outside interest the case had generated. “This attention was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case.” —Jennifer Howard