You see, one night in August 1996 one of my best friends, Michael LaHood, was murdered by Mauriceo Brown. And Kenneth Foster, Jr. was driving for Mauriceo that night. I don't know what the circumstances of Kenneth's involvement were beyond the fact that he was still in the car when Mauriceo pulled the trigger that sent a bullet through my friend's brain, ending his life immediately.
Was he being forced to drive? Or was he along for the ride? I don't care. Kenneth deserves and is receiving punishment for his role in the tragedy that occurred that night. But whatever punishment Kenneth does deserve for his role in my friend's cruel murder, execution should not ever have been (or be) an option. He did not pull the trigger, or encourage Mr. Brown to pull it in any way, nor was he even aware that the murder was being contemplated or had been committed until after the fact. His punishment should not be execution.
But we are in Texas and in Texas, barbaric laws prevail, like something out of Beowulf or the Old Testament or Reservoir Dogs -- one of the very few movies I could not watch to the end for its unspeakable cruelty. Never mind that we are in the 21st century. Never mind that we are supposed to be modern.
I miss Michael, my dear friend, whom I nicknamed 'Chainsaw.' He was a big, musclebound, softhearted jabber-mouth, always talking and always cracking jokes. Mike was full of life. And although he was a body builder I never saw him angry and I never saw him so much as hurt anyone. His joy was infectious -- everyone wanted to hang out with Mike and the ladies loved him, although he didn't quite have the confidence to take advantage of it (yet). Why he chose a long-haired, poetry writing, guitar playing miscreant and reformed pothead/high school dropout like myself I will never know. But I loved him dearly. The only time I ever cheated in college or university was for Mike. He hated poetry and asked if he could use one of my poems for his Freshman Comp? How could I say no?
I still remember eating chicken fried steak with him and D-Day -- the third and most successful leg of our triumviral friendship -- at Maggies at 3:00am after clubbing, back when the three of us attended the local junior college, were obsessed with the opposite sex but too stupid to realize they were just as obsessed with us as we were with them. God, how I'd give anything to have him back. Thinking of him brings a tear to my eyes even now. What makes it worse is that I'd returned from living out of the country a few months before he was killed. A new career kept me busy. We kept postponing getting together. My last words to Mike -- two weeks before he was murdered -- were a cliché for all clichés: "We'll do it next weekend, buddy, we've got all the time in the world." I couldn't hear the clock ticking. I wish I'd listened closer.
And for that I hated Mauriceo and his gang even more, and for a long time. But the execution of a young man who didn't even kill Mike? That's not justice. It's senseless vengeance, a barbarism cloaked in the black robes of justice.
Never knowing that a friend of one of the men involved in Mike's murder might reach out to me for help I wrote this two years ago about the death penalty:
Whenever people ask me about the death penalty I always reply: when you make it to the Pearly Gates, and Saint Peter asks, "justice or mercy?" Which will you choose?
Usually they sputter or blurt something out like, "The death penalty doesn't have anything to do with that." I reply, "The death penalty has everything to do with that. You just can't see it."
Then they say, "What if it happened to someone you know." And I reply, "In 1996 one of my best friends, Michael LaHood was murdered. And I don't want his killer to die. I want his killer to repent. And then spend the rest of his life in prison helping other prisoners with less onerous sentences to see the light."
That's when they say, "You're a softy, wishy-washy feel-good, self-helping liberal wimp." By that time its too late to ask them, "What requires more courage: revenge or forgiveness?"
I prefer mercy, wimp or not.
Kenneth did not ask for my help and he's already accepted his fate. Someone he helped asked me to help him. I cannot live with myself if I don't try. Wimp or not.
He is scheduled to be executed on the 30th of August.