Photo with Jeff Wood’s family on lobby day in 2015 in support of bill to end death penalty in law of parties cases. We visited all the offices of members of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee asking them to support the bill, which did later pass the committee with votes in favor by Rep Jeff Leach, Rep David Simpson, Rep Abel Herrero, and Rep Terry Canales.
Also pictured are Rep Harold Dutton in back row, Mark Clements lower left. Terri Been, standing next to Ron Keine, Sabrina Butler left front of Dutton, Gloria Rubac, Lily Hughes, Kidsagainstthedeathpenalty Kadp back row, Delia Perez Meyer, Alison Dieter, Pat Hartwell. Photo by Scott Cobb.
Another office we visited that day was Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr and asked him to file a bill in the Senate to abolish the death penalty, which he filed a couple of weeks later, the first time a state senator had ever filed legislation to completely abolish the death penalty in Texas.
The order includes a concurring opinion by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Court Judge Elsa Alcala in which she says she would also grant relief on additional claims not granted by the opinion that stayed the execution of Jeff Wood.
“I write separately because I would also remand claims five, six, and seven, in which applicant alleges that his participation in the offense and his moral culpability are too minimal to warrant the death penalty, that evolving standards of decency now prohibit the execution of a person who was convicted as a party to a capital offense, and, more generally, that Texas’s death-penalty scheme should be declared unconstitutional because it is arbitrary and fails to target the worst of the worst offenders, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
Statement from Attorney for Jeff Wood in Response to Ruling by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
“The court did the right thing by staying Mr. Wood’s execution and authorizing his claims related to Dr. Grigson’s false testimony during the sentencing phase to be considered on the merits. The man who committed murder was executed in 2002. Justice is not served by executing Mr. Wood, who was outside the building when it happened and who had no criminal history. Three former jurors have said they feel the government’s presentation to them of a discredited psychiatrist who predicted with certainty, and without evaluating Mr. Wood, that Mr. Wood would be criminally violent in the future was unfair. The psychiatrist had been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for the same unethical conduct as he engaged in Mr. Wood’s case. The jurors no longer support a death sentence. Mr. Wood is grateful for the opportunity to prove that his death sentence is unwarranted.”
— Jared Tyler, Attorney for Jeff Wood
In January of 1996, Jeffrey Wood and Daniel Reneau carried out a plan they both made to rob a convenience store in Kerrville. Wood sat in the vehicle outside the store while Reneau went inside to steal the store safe. When the clerk failed to give up the safe, Reneau fatally shot him. After hearing the shot, Wood went into the convenience store and helped Reneau to remove the safe and security camera footage.
Based on that short synopsis, it would not be difficult to understand why juries convicted both Wood and Reneau of capital murder and sentenced both to die by lethal injection.
There is no doubt that the acts carried out by the two men are deserving of harsh penalties. But does one who did not pull the trigger deserve the same penalty as the one who did? As life often demonstrates, the answer can be complicated. In some cases I believe this may be justified. However, in this case, I believe the answer is no.
I believe the death penalty, and in some cases the law of parties, has a place. Human life, being made in the image of God, is very precious. Taking that life unjustly deserves, in some cases, the severest of penalties — the forfeiting of the perpetrator’s own life for the life or lives of those unjustly taken.
In the case of Wood, I have seen enough questions to warrant advocating that his life be spared. Ultimately, God will judge our actions, and as human beings we make mistakes and our justice system is not perfect.
Reports have shown that Wood asked his partner Reneau not to bring a gun, something that was mentioned in Reneau’s trial, but not Wood’s. That does not excuse the actions Wood took planning and helping to carry out the deed. Others have claimed that Wood was forced and that he was not mentally competent to stand trial — leaving unanswered questions in a case that is about to end a man’s life.
Davy Crockett once said, “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead.” This is one of my favorite quotes because it demands both humility and courage. We are not always right. Government, our justice system and our laws are not always right. When we are not sure we’re right, we need to stop and reflect. Erring on the side of life is far better than to wrongly take another life.
These are some of the reasons why I decided to join my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to ask for the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole to recommend Gov. Greg Abbott commute Wood’s sentence. This would not free or pardon him, but it would spare his life.
In this case I believe justice would be better served if Wood’s death penalty sentence is commuted. Wood would still serve the remainder of his life in prison. Wood did not take a life himself, but he did play a substantial role in a heinous crime which resulted in the loss of precious human life. A severe punishment appears just, but not to the same degree as Reneau received. A righteous judgment can still be served.
Avoiding doing any wrong in measuring and meting out appropriate judgment must be our aim at every step in the criminal justice system, lest we subvert justice in the name of exacting it.
Today, Jeff Wood’s family and friends delivered about 10,500 petition signatures to the offices of Texas Governor Greg Abbott and separately to the office of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Below is a media story of today’s delivery from KVUE in Austin, reported by Erin Jones, “Jeff Wood’s family trying to stop his execution“. You can still Sign the petition here. We will deliver additional signatures later.
It’s not often that a staunch conservative loses sleep over imposition of the death penalty, but state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, says he is up nights over the impending execution of Jeff Wood.
The two-term legislator has spent the past week poring over court documents and speaking with the governor’s office and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, hoping to prevent what would be the state’s seventh execution of the year. Wood is set to die by lethal injection Aug. 24.
“I simply do not believe that Mr. Wood is deserving of the death sentence,” Leach told the Tribune. “I can’t sit quietly by and not say anything.”
In the early morning of Jan. 2, 1996, Wood sat in a truck outside a Kerrville gas station while his friend, Daniel Reneau, went inside to steal a safe said to be full from the holiday weekend, according to court documents. When the clerk, Kriss Keeran, didn’t comply or respond to threats, Reneau shot him dead.
Reneau was sentenced to death and executed in 2002. Wood received his own death sentence under Texas’ felony murder statute, commonly known as the law of parties, which holds that anyone involved in a crime resulting in death is equally responsible, even if they weren’t directly involved in the actual killing.
According to Nadia Mireles, Wood’s then-girlfriend, Wood told Reneau to leave his gun at home the morning of the murder. She said Reneau put the gun down but picked it back up when Wood left the room. Her testimony was not included in Wood’s trial, but it was in Reneau’s.
Prosecutors argued Wood knew Reneau would kill Keeran if he didn’t cooperate with the robbery. If true, that would make him guilty of capital murder under the law of parties, which states that a person can be charged with a crime he didn’t commit if he “should have anticipated it as a result” of another crime.
Leach, who ranks among the most conservative Republicans in the House, is for the death penalty in the most heinous cases, he said. And he believes in the death penalty under the law of parties in cases where the accomplice was clearly involved in the murder. But when he came across Wood’s case during his work for the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, it didn’t seem right.
“Jeffery Lee Wood’s case has caught my attention unlike any death row inmate in my time in office has,” he said. “Once I started digging, I couldn’t stop.”
Now, Leach is trying to use his voice as a lawmaker to stop the execution and change Wood’s sentence from death to life in prison. He’s spoken with Gov. Greg Abbott‘s office and the parole board and hopes to convince other legislators to send letters to the two before the board takes up the case on Monday, he said.
If the parole board votes to recommend that Wood’s sentence be changed, Abbott can accept or reject that recommendation. Without the board’s recommendation, the most Abbott can do is issue a one-time, 30-day delay of execution.
“This is the reason we have this final step by the Constitution to provide the governor the right to commute a sentence,” Leach said, adding that he would ultimately respect whatever choice the board and Abbott make.
Abbott’s office declined to comment for this story. The parole board has previously said it could not comment on Wood’s clemency petition. In a 2008 petition, the parole boardand then-Gov. Rick Perry declined to commute Wood’s sentence.
Leach isn’t the only one working to stop Wood’s death.
Anti-death penalty activists and Wood supporters have protested the upcoming execution at the governor’s mansion and plan to deliver a petition tomorrow signed by thousands pleading for Abbott and the parole board to change Wood’s sentence, according to Scott Cobb of the Texas Moratorium Network. Nearly 50 evangelical leaders from around the country sent a letter asking Abbott and the parole board to stop the execution.
Wood’s lawyers are busy, too. A new appeal was filed in state district court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals for a new sentencing hearing, citing many of the reasons which swayed Leach — questionable expert testimony, mental competence issues and regretful jurors.
The Kerr County District Attorney’s Office did not return calls about the case.
What — if any — legislation may come out of Wood’s case is uncertain; Leach said thinking of that is the next step.
“Right now we’re looking back, and we’re trying to right an already existing wrong,” he said.
Members of Jeff Wood’s family, friends and supporters will deliver the petition with thousands of signatures to Governor Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Thursday, August 18. If you are in Austin and want to be there for the delivery, meet at the Texas Capitol at noon on the South side. Also attending will be Mark Clements, who spent 28 years in prison before his release and exoneration.
Terri Been’s voice shook as she read a long text message from her niece.
“I had a nightmare about my dad last night,” Paige Rowan told her aunt in the text.
Rowan described a dream in which she watched helplessly as the execution needle pierced her father’s skin.
She woke up screaming, panicking and feeling hopeless, she told Been.
Then, she said, she dropped to her knees and prayed.
“Please don’t allow this to happen,” Rowan wrote. “Don’t take my father away.”
Been struggled to finish reading the text message, her voice breaking as she paused several times to regain her composure during an interview with The Washington Post.
The message was sent Sunday, Been said, less than three weeks ahead of the date her niece has come to dread: Aug. 24, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to inject Jeffrey Lee Wood with a lethal dose of pentobarbital to stop his heart.
Rowan’s nightmares have been happening more often as her father’s execution date looms closer.
It is so close now that she can feel it, Rowan told her aunt.
The scheduled execution is Wood’s punishment for the 1996 death of a man he did not kill — and, by some accounts, did not know was going to be killed.
Legal experts say his case is rare, even in Texas, the execution capital of America — and a state that allows capital punishment for people who did not kill anyone or did not intend to kill.