Allan Turner writes, "Board: Commute death sentence in Houston case," for the Houston Chronicle.
The state pardons board today recommended that Houston killer Robert Thompson's scheduled Thursday execution be commuted to life in prison after his lawyer successfully argued that he was not the triggerman in a December 1996 convenience store robbery-murder.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has only once in his tenure as chief executive voluntarily commuted a death sentence, was expected to rule on the case tonight or tomorrow.
“I'm too scared to be optimistic,” said Thompson's attorney Pat McCann, “but Perry has been receptive to law of parties cases.”
Thompson was sentenced to death in a law of parties case stemming from the slaying of Mansoor Rahim in a Dec. 5, 1996, robbery of a Braeswood Boulevard convenience store. Thompson's partner in the crime, Sammy Butler, fired the fatal shot, but was sentenced only to life in prison.
Under the state's law of parties, all participants in a crime are held fully responsible and can be assessed the death penalty.
Perry's office did not immediately respond to queries about when the governor might decide the case, but McCann said the governor's legal counsel advised him a decision likely would come tonight or tomorrow.
Although Perry has commuted death sentences in accordance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions, only once, in the case of San Antonio killer Kenneth Foster, has the governor commuted of his own accord.
Foster was convicted of capital murder in a law of parties case although he was not the triggerman. His death sentence was commuted in August 2007.
McCann said executing Thompson would neither deter crime or provide retribution.
Governor Perry may accept the Board's recommendation and commute Thompson's death sentence, however, he is not obligated to do so. He will announce a decision Thursday.
In 2004, the Board recommended that he commute the death sentence of Kelsey Patterson due to Patterson's severe mental illness. Perry rejected that recommendation and Patterson was executed. As noted by Allan Turner, Perry's only commutation of an inmate facing imminent execution was that of Kenneth Foster.