by State Representative David Simpson, August 19, 2016
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.
In 1997, Reneau confessed to his crimes. He was executed in 2002. Wood faces the same fate next week.
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.