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Accomplice to Murder Executed under Texas “Law of Parties”

Beunka Adams was executed on April 26th for his role in a 2002 robbery, abduction and shooting which left one man dead. Although it was never proved at trial that Adams was the actual shooter, his death sentence came about as a result of being charged under Texas’ “law of parties,” which allows an accomplice to be charged with the same offense as the principal actor. Adams’ partner in the 2002 crimes, Richard Cobb, has also been convicted and sentenced to die, although an execution date has not been set as of this time.

Chapter 7 of the Texas Penal Code states that “A person is criminally responsible as a party to an offense if the offense is committed by his own conduct, by the conduct of another for which he is criminally responsible, or by both.” and also that “Each party to an offense may be charged with commission of the offense.” The law sets out the conditions under which one may be considered criminally responsible for an offense committed by another.

The law of parties has been extended to capital murder cases on numerous occasions. Others have been sentenced to death as accomplices under the law of parties, but were not executed for one reason or another. In 2004, Joe Lee Guy had received the death penalty but was resentenced to life in prison after the actual killers received life sentences. In 2007, Governor Perry commuted a death sentence to life in prison for Kenneth Foster, and in 2008 a federal court stayed the execution of Jeffrey Wood to allow for a mental health examination regarding whether he was competent to be executed.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Tison v. Arizona upheld the constitutionality of a state’s imposition of the death penalty when an accomplice had a major role in the murder and exhibited reckless indifference to human life, but did not actually commit the killing.

Texas Law of Parties Applies to Any Offense

The law of parties can apply to any offense, and a person who aided another in the commission of a crime may be charged with that same offense, even though the person’s actual involvement was far less substantial than that of the principal actor. This law can even be applied to someone who does not participate at all in the commission of a crime, but who fails to make a “reasonable effort” to prevent the commission of an offense when the person has a “legal duty” to do so.

If you have been charged under the law of parties, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the law and can work to make sure you are not unfairly prosecuted or convicted of a crime that you do not bear the responsibility for. In Houston, contact the criminal defense lawyers at McLemore, Reddell, Ardoin and Story, P.L.L.C.