Kenneth Foster Jr. was 19 years old when he drove three friends around San Antonio, Texas on the evening of August 14, 1996. The night started in fun…but ended in murder. For an in-depth look at the murder trial of Kenneth Foster Jr. and the events that led to the extremely rare commutation of his execution, read this Kenneth Foster wiki.
Kenneth Foster Jr.: A Childhood Filled with Drugs and Poverty
For the most part, until he was charged with murder, nobody outside a small circle of friends really knew who Kenneth Foster Jr. was.
Foster was born October 22, 1976, at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas. Until the fourth grade, he lived in East Austin, near Hargrave and Rosewood streets.
Kenneth Foster’s parents were drug addicts who made his early, formative years very tough.
His mother worked the streets as a prostitute, and died of AIDS in 1993.
His father, Kenneth Foster Sr., used to take his young son to “dope houses” where he scored crack and heroin.
According to his grandfather, Lawrence Foster Sr., both of Kenneth’s parents used their son as a shield when supporting their drug habits or shoplifting. They’d go to a store and steal things and use Kenneth to hide the evidence.
When Kenneth was in the fourth grade, he went to live with his grandparents, who lived on the other side of San Antonio.
“He liked it down here… He became more stable,” Lawrence Foster Sr. said. “I didn’t ever like him going to visit [in Austin] because he’d come back and have the same traits [as his parents], and I wanted to eradicate them. He’d steal things and not know any better.”
This led to several run-ins with police, including a couple of minor drug possession busts. But in the grand scheme of things, Kenneth “was more good than bad.”
When he was around 18 years old, he and his girlfriend, Nicole Johnson, had a baby daughter, Nydesha.
Foster was in a steady relationship, was a father, was going to college, and was an aspiring rap musician trying to launch his own label, Tribulation Records.
He had his whole life ahead of him.
All of that changed on August 14, 1996.
“Kenneth holds me in high esteem, he’s said… And he thinks that [his grandparents] are the reason he is what he is—not where he is,” Foster Sr. said.
“If I’d made a left turn instead of a right turn,” Kenneth said, reflecting on the events of that fateful night. “It must be for a reason.”
August 14, 1996 – A Co-Conspirator to Murder
At around 9:00 p.m., on the evening of August 14, 1996, Kenneth Foster Jr. and his three friends, Julius Steen, Mauriceo Brown (a known member of the Crips street gang), and Dwayne Dillard were heading into downtown San Antonio in his grandfather’s rental car, a white Chevy Cavalier.
On that warm Wednesday night, the four men were cruising around, smoking and drinking. While Kenneth Foster Jr. was driving, “class clown” Brown told everyone in the car he was carrying a gun and thought it would be a good idea to “jack” a few people to pay for their night on the town.
Before long, they had $300.00 burning a hole in their pockets. Foster’s friends knew what they wanted to do with it—check out a new club.
As they drove toward their destination, they allegedly got lost north of downtown and wound up on a dark, windy residential street in an unfamiliar neighborhood. They were behind two cars and, for some reason, thought they might be headed to a party, so Foster continued to follow them.
That is, until the cars ahead of them pulled into the driveway of a darkened house.
Kenneth Foster Jr. drove a little farther before turning around. When the four high-and-drunk men passed the house, they claimed they saw a woman standing at the foot of the driveway, gesturing to them.
It was late, around 2:00 a.m., but Kenneth Foster Jr. stopped the car in front of the home, owned by the LaHood family. Mauriceo Brown got out of the car and started talking to Mary Patrick, the woman who had waved them in.
Brown and Patrick chatted as he followed her up the driveway. At around the same time, her boyfriend, 25-year-old law student Michael LaHood Jr., appeared behind Patrick and instructed her to go inside.
LaHood approached Brown, and after a brief altercation, Brown shot LaHood at point-blank range in the face. The carload of men drove off as LaHood lay dead on the driveway.
Within a few hours, Kenneth Foster Jr. was pulled over by San Antonio police for speeding and driving erratically. By now, the LaHood shooting was well-known to police, as was the description of the car the men were driving.
All four of the men were on probation for earlier felonies and were arrested for the murder of LaHood.
Each of the men gave police a written statement saying that Mauriceo Brown was the murderer. Even Brown himself admitted he’d shot and killed LaHood. Admittedly, Brown’s story had changed a little.
In his confession, Brown claimed he saw LaHood reaching for a weapon; he simply shot him in self-defense, he said.
For the record, police never found a weapon on LaHood or at the scene. Regardless, the facts of the case are that Mauriceo Brown fired the shot that killed LaHood before he ran back into the car, driven by Kenneth Foster Jr., which then fled the scene.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Brown had planned on robbing Michael LaHood Jr. all along, not to score Mary Patrick’s phone number. They claimed that Foster, Brown, Dillard, and Steen were still cruising San Antonio looking for people to rob when they saw LaHood and his girlfriend Patrick driving and began to follow them.
They ended up at LaHood’s driveway at around 2:00 a.m. Prosecutors contended Brown jumped out of the car, walked up to LaHood, and demanded his car keys. When he didn’t hand them over, Brown shot him.
Prosecutors argued that because the four men had robbed two people earlier in the evening and Brown had a gun, Kenneth Foster Jr. should have been able to predict that harm would come to LaHood.
Steen, who served as lookout that night, cut a deal to testify against the others.
Dillard was never tried for the crime but, oddly enough, was held under indictment until shortly after Foster and Brown were convicted and was unable to testify at their trial.
On October 11, 1996, Foster, Brown, and Steen were indicted on capital murder charges for “intentionally and knowingly” shooting LaHood while trying to rob him.
Kenneth Foster Jr. never pulled the trigger, but was still charged with murder. Under Texas’ “Law of Parties,” anyone involved in a crime, even if they didn’t carry it out directly, is guilty of the crime.
That means, under the law, all the jury needed to determine was whether Foster should have anticipated that Brown might kill LaHood.
Against all odds, the jury convicted Kenneth Foster Jr.
Steen and Dillard were given life sentences, though Dillard’s was for a separate murder charge.
Following a sentencing hearing, during which a jury heard about Foster and Brown’s affiliations with street gangs, the two were sentenced to death in May 1997.
In less than a year, Kenneth Foster Jr., then 19, had gone from father and aspiring rapper to death row prisoner #99232.
More Information Revealed after the Trial
Since the trial, Brown, Steen, and Dillard have all sworn that no one in the car had any reason to believe, predict, or anticipate that a robbery or murder would happen when Brown left the car in front of the LaHood residence.
They argued that there was no conspiracy.
Keith Hampton, Kenneth Foster Jr.’s attorney, said on many occasions that it is unconstitutional to convict someone under the Law of Parties when there is no conspiracy.
Moreover, four years after the trial, Dillard testified that Kenneth Foster Jr. had wanted to stop after the second robbery. In fact, Foster had asked Dillard to convince Brown and Steen to stop, because they knew Dillard better and Foster thought they would disregard his request.
July 2006 – Mauriceo Brown Executed
Mauriceo Brown spent his last days on death row praying and receiving visitors.
According to his brother, Leslie Brown Jr., Mauriceo seemed calm and upbeat after finding his faith again. A month before, he was re-baptized as a Catholic. And he had been reading the Bible daily.
“He feels like everything happens for a reason, and he was given this opportunity to get his life right with God,” Leslie said.
For Mauriceo’s last meal, he ordered enchiladas with cheese and onions, fried chicken, and a boneless T-bone steak with “A1 Steak Sauce.”
On July 9, 2006, Mauriceo Brown was executed by lethal injection in front of LaHood’s two brothers.
His final words were:
“To the victim’s family, I am sorry you lost a brother, loved one, and friend. I apologize that you lost a loved one this way. To my family, I love you all. Keep your heads up and know I will be in a better place. God bless you all. Okay, warden.”
According to witnesses, as the drugs took effect, Brown’s mother cried and collapsed to the floor. She was escorted from the witness area shortly thereafter.
Brown was pronounced dead at 6:47 p.m., eight minutes after the lethal drugs began to flow into his veins. The execution was actually delayed for a few minutes while the U.S. Supreme Court considered appeals.
Kenneth Foster Jr. Turned to Writing on Death Row
Kenneth Foster Jr. settled into life on death row as well as one could. To help pass the time and keep his mind active, Foster became a writer on death row.
He started writing after he watched a prisoner forcibly removed from his cell by correctional officers. The prisoner was executed by lethal injection.
“This man was gassed, wrestled down, cuffed, and dragged to his fate.”
Foster, understanding that the same thing would happen to him, needed to share what he saw and felt.
He bought his first typewriter, a Smith Corona, in 1999, and began writing letters in an effort to stop being dragged to his own fate.
Kenneth Foster Jr.’s Execution Date Set for August 30, 2007
By 2006, when Mauriceo Brown was executed, anti-capital punishment protests had begun across the U.S. One of the key arguments was that Kenneth Foster Jr.’s death sentence was far too severe for the role he had played in the crime.
It didn’t have much effect on Foster’s sentence. A year later, his execution date was set for August 30, 2007.
This is what Kenneth Foster knew awaited him.
Typically, the day before a prisoner is executed, they are moved to a special ward called the “death house.” Here, they sit in a cell, eat their final meal, and spend time with visiting family members.
But in Kenneth Foster Jr.’s case, he was dragged away from his cell a day early. He feared he would never see his family again.
Foster protested; he lay on the floor, forcing wardens to carry him to the death house.
“I was scared to death,” he said. “I didn’t know why they were coming. I know that I can’t get executed before my execution date, but when they came to take me out of my cell, I went to the ground and refused to walk.”
They carried Foster, put him in a van, and drove him to the death house in Huntsville. The next day, Foster had his final visit with his family.
In Texas, before a prisoner is put to death, they get one final chance to make their case. The seven-member Board of Pardons and Paroles reviews their application for clemency. It is rare for anyone in Texas to have their death penalty case commuted.
Foster’s Death Sentence Commuted Six Hours before Execution
On August 30, while the Board of Pardons and Paroles reviewed Foster’s case, he sat down with his wife and grandfather one last time. To protest capital punishment, he refused to eat a last meal.
Then a call came from the warden.
“Six to one!” his grandfather shouted. The board had read Foster’s typewritten application and recommended that his death sentence be commuted to life in prison.
An hour later, then-Governor Rick Perry called off the execution.
“He was very excited; he jumped for joy,” said his father, Kenneth Foster Sr.
Having a death sentence commuted in Texas is a rare event. It was even more rare under Governor Perry. Perry took office in 2000, and until the Foster case, he had only commuted two death sentences as recommended by the pardon board.
To put that into perspective, Perry holds the record for executions. During his tenure as Texas governor (2000-2015), Perry oversaw more than 320 executions. That’s more than half of the 553 executions Texas has conducted since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982. Moreover, Perry has executed more people than any other governor in modern times.
Foster’s attorney Hampton, who had run out of options, said, “I’m very relieved, for Kenneth and all his supporters.”
“Given the obvious—that it would have been virtually impossible to predict the murder of Michael LaHood—Foster was sentenced to death under the broadest and most appalling interpretation of the Law of Parties,” said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty of Amnesty International USA.
After finding out his death sentence had been commuted to life in prison, the warden came over and told Foster, “Hey, we’ll have a bus here to get you in about 10 minutes.”
They reprocessed Kenneth Foster Jr. as a new inmate.
And the second half of his life began on August 30, 2007.
Norma LaHood, Murder Victim’s Mother, Speaks
Norma LaHood took Foster’s commutation as divine will.
“I’m filled with peace,” LaHood said. “I will mourn my son till I die, but I’m not forced anymore to relive his death.”
Kenneth Foster Jr. Eligible for Parole in August 2036
Kenneth Foster Jr. now calls a maximum-security state prison home. At least for another 30 years; he was given a new prison sentence of 40 years.
“Every day for the last 21 years, I’ve had to think, ‘What can I do that’s going to make a difference in this situation?’” Foster said.
“Even though I wasn’t the one that killed LaHood, nevertheless I was there,” Foster said. “I’ve had to pay the price for it, and it means something to me.”
Foster has said he wants to build a bridge with the LaHood family, to find out if “rehabilitation and redemption is possible.”
“I want to show that life is worth something,” Foster added.
Michael LaHood’s Brother, Nico, May Not Be Ready for That
Nico LaHood has said he doesn’t think the four men would have driven the car into his family’s neighborhood unless they were following someone.
“I became a functioning ‘angerholic’ [after my brother’s death],” LaHood said, “and the world didn’t give me any answers.
“All I’m saying is, I don’t believe the man is sincere,” LaHood said. “Everybody deserves redemption if they want it. That’s the big if. They have to want it.
“And there is no reconciliation between anybody without truth. If I offended you, but yet I lie to you to try to make it better with you, that’s not true reconciliation,” he added.
“The idea of meeting with Foster doesn’t enrage me anymore,” LaHood said. “But I will not expend any resources to do something solely for him. He can’t pay me back…so why seek me out for a debt that he can’t pay?”
Kenneth Foster Jr. Returns to Writing behind Bars
Same scenery, different lifestyle. Kenneth Foster Jr. is still in prison but he’s not staring an execution in the face.
As soon as Foster was sent back to prison, he resumed his writing and reflected on his sentence.
“I look at it as I’m halfway through my life,” he said. “I’ve now spent more time in prison than I did a free man.”
Kenneth Foster Jr. is being held in a maximum-security prison in Beaumont, Texas, where all of his possessions fit in two cubic feet: the Bible, the Quran, a seven-language dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary, and his typewriter.
Foster, Family, and Friends Hold out Hope Sentence Will Be Reduced
Kenneth Foster Jr.’s sentence was commuted from death to life in prison. And his family and friends hope it can be reduced again. But there was one major obstacle preventing any such wish from being fulfilled.
The only person who can further reduce Kenneth Foster Jr.’s sentence is the district attorney, and that position was held by Nico LaHood, the brother of the murdered Michael LaHood. He was sworn in as Bexar County criminal district attorney on January 1, 2015.
“I helped my pop wash my brother’s blood off the driveway,” Nico said. “Kenneth Foster is still saying he didn’t know what they were doing, but there’s no reconciliation without truth.
“We weren’t dealing with a boy scout. I will not expend resources to do anything for him.”
Kenneth Foster Jr. Makes Startling Confession
Kenneth Foster Jr. will not be eligible for parole until 2036, and he intends to spend that time building bridges. And that includes coming clean and admitting that he left out some details about what happened that fateful night in August 1996.
“I want to say something which Nico and some of my supporters don’t know,” he said.
“When Michael LaHood was at the top of the driveway, he gave us the bird. In a joking fashion, I told Mauriceo, ‘You going to let that guy flick us off like that?’
“That’s when Mauriceo jumped out the car and got up to the driveway. He just wanted to be a tough man.
“I feel that if I hadn’t said that, we’d have just drove off. I’m accepting the guilt, and I’m accepting the blame.
“That’s something I wanted to sit in front of Nico and tell him.”
Foster may get his chance.
Nico LaHood lost his election bid for a second term in March 2018 and is no longer the district attorney. This means Kenneth Foster Jr. may be able to sit down with Nico. In theory, it also means there is a chance Foster could get his sentence reduced.