Out-of-Control Rick Perry Overrides Rare Clemency Vote, Executes Man Who Killed No One

Human Rights

This post originally appeared in PEEK.

Rick Perry is out of control.

Even as the controversy over his execution of an innocent man goes unresolved, last night the Texas Governor rejected a rare clemency recommendation from the state Board of Pardons and Paroles for a man facing execution for a murder he did not commit.

Robert Lee Thompson was an accomplice in a violent convenience store robbery in Houston in 1996, when his co-conspirator fatally shot the sales clerk, a man named Mansoor Bhai Rahim Mohammed. Thompson himself fired shots that wounded Mohammed, but it was his partner, Sammy Butler, who pulled the trigger that would leave him dead. Butler was tried and sentenced to life. A different jury found Thompson guilty and sentenced him to death.

Thompson was sentenced under Texas's Law of Parties, a cynical legal statute that allows multiple parties to be found guilty of the same crime, even if they did not directly participate in it. Similar to other felony murder statutes, Texas's law states that "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."

Under the Law of Parties, defendants can be held responsible for "failing to anticipate" that the "conspiracy" would lead to a murder.

Numerous defendants who did not kill anyone have been executed under the Law of Parties; that Perry wouldn't hesitate to sign off on Thompson's execution should comes as no surprise. But yesterday Thompson was granted a recommendation for clemency by the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles -- an extremely rare move. The Board, whose members are political appointments, has only recommended clemency two other times in recent memory.

One of these was two years ago in the case of Kenneth Foster, Jr., who also faced execution under the Law of Parties. In his case, the murder took place while he was in a car, 18 feet away. A grassroots campaign rose up to stop Foster's execution and in August 2007, Perry took the Board's recommendation and spared his life.

Yesterday, the Board voted 5 to 2 to spare Robert Lee Thompson, a "highly unusual" move in the words of the Houston Chronicle, and one described by Thompson's lawyer, as "hugely significant."

"I'm thrilled," he said, upon hearing news of the Board vote.

But in Texas, the Governor has the final say in clemency decisions. Despite the rare recommendation, Perry, who faces a close primary election next year against Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, was unmoved. Hours after the Board's vote, he released a statement saying that he saw "no reason" to spare Thompson's life.

Thompson was executed on schedule, at 6pm Texas time. According to AP reporter Michael Graczyk, "his mother cried uncontrollably, stomped her feet and finally demanded to be taken from the witness area before her son was pronounced dead at 6:19 p.m."

Statements were released by the Texas Moratorium Network on behalf of family members of death row prisoners also sentenced under the Law of Parties, including one from Terri Been, whose brother, Jeff Wood, came close to being executed in August 2008 for a murder he did not commit.

"I must say that I was surprised to hear that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles grew a conscious and voted in favor of clemency for Robert Thompson, since they unanimously voted for the execution of my brother, Jeff Wood, who was also convicted under the law of parties despite the fact that he is factually innocent of murder," said Been. "However, I was not surprised to hear Perry didn't jump on board the clemency train as the man has no sense of true justice."  

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