Nearly 50 Evangelical Leaders Ask Governor Abbott and BPP to Spare Jeff Wood’s Life

Today, nearly 50 Evangelical leaders from Texas and across the country delivered a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles asking them to spare Mr. Wood’s life. Mr. Wood is scheduled for execution on August 24, 2016, even though he was not the triggerman, had no previous criminal history, and suffers from borderline intellectual functioning and mental illness. In their letter, the Evangelicals stated: “The death penalty, we are told, is reserved for the most egregious crimes. Wood’s actions — which did not include directly committing a murder or intending to — simply do not fall into this category.” The letter can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2aUlueb.

Mr. Wood’s application for clemency noted that, in recent years, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended commutations for two people who, like Mr. Wood, did not take a life themselves. Mr. Wood’s emotional and intellectual impairments made him vulnerable to the manipulation and domination of the actual shooter, Daniel Reneau, who committed the crime while Mr. Wood was outside the building and who was executed in 2002. Mr. Wood’s clemency petition can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2aGNOOP.


August 8, 2016

 

Governor Greg Abbott

P.O. Box 12428

Austin, TX 78711

 

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles

P.O. Box 13401

Austin, TX 78711-3401

 

Dear Governor Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles,

We are evangelical leaders united in our call for a new sentencing hearing for Jeff Wood and for his scheduled execution to be stopped. Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments  who never should have been sentenced to death. Officials have a moral obligation to rectify this mistake and stop this execution while they still can.

On January 2, 1996, a senseless murder occurred during the course of a convenience store robbery in Kerrville, Texas. Daniel Reneau shot and killed Kriss Keeran, who was working as the store clerk. While this happened, Wood was in the car that he had come in with Reneau. Nothing suggests that Wood planned with Reneau to murder Keeran. In fact, witnesses attest that Wood told Reneau not to bring his gun before they left for the convenience store.

These details significantly lessen Wood’s culpability in the crime. As the getaway driver, Wood committed a crime, but not one deserving the death penalty. The death penalty, we are told, is reserved for the most egregious crimes. Wood’s actions—which did not include directly committing a murder or intending to—simply do not fall into this category.

Moreover, Wood had intellectual and emotional disabilities that were well documented before the murder. His impairments impacted his behavior at trial, as he irrationally instructed his attorneys not to present any evidence on his behalf. So the jury never heard any evidence of his background, including his mental impairments. Instead, Dr. James Grigson—a psychiatrist expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for ethical violations—testified to the jury that Wood represented a future danger, despite never evaluating him.

It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of. All are made in God’s image, and as a society we especially must protect those with mental illness and disabilities. Public officials must not shirk this responsibility. We urge them to act now to spare Wood’s life.

In Christ,

 

Texas Pastors

Larry Baker, Director of Doctor of Ministry Program and Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, TX

Paul Basden, Pastor of Preston Trail Community Church, Frisco, TX

Derek Dodson, Senior Lecturer of the Religion Department at Baylor University, Waco, TX

Wes Helm, Associate Pastor of Springcreek Church, Garland, TX

Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

William O’Brien, Executive Director of The Gaston Christian Center, Dallas, TX

Paul Randall, Associate Pastor of Ecclesia, Houston, TX

Scott Tjernagel, Lead Pastor of River City Vineyard Community Church, New Braunfels, TX

Donald Williford, Dean of Logsdon School of Theology, Abilene, TX

Ralph Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, Waco, TX

 

National Leaders

Bob Adams, Baptist Industrial Chaplain, Asheville, NC

Vincent Bacote, Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

Cheryl Bridges Johns, Professor of Discipleship and Christian Formation at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, TN

LaMon Brown, Retired Missionary for the International Missions of American Baptist Churches, USA, Birmingham, AL

Valerie Burton, Minister for Christian Formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, AL

Tony Campolo, Co-founder of Red Letter Christians, Wayne, PA

Shane Claiborne, Author, Activist, and Co-Founder of Red Letter Christians, Philadelphia, PA

Jim Clifford, Hospice Chaplain, Fairhope, AL

Carolyn Dipboye, Co-Pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Oak Ridge, TN

Larry Dipboye, Pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Oak Ridge, TN

Tom Duley, Minister of Missions and Pastoral Care at Bluff Park United Methodist Church, Hoover, AL

David Gushee, Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life and Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA

Christopher Hamlin, Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

Lisa Sharon Harper, Senior Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, Washington, D.C.

Antipas Harris, Associate Professor of Regent University School of Divinity and President of GIELD, Inc.

Ruford Hodges, Jr., Retired Baptist Minister, Birmingham, AL

Fisher Humphreys, Professor of Divinity, Emeritus, Samford University, Birmingham, AL

Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor of Northland – A Church Distributed

Lynne Hybels, Co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL

Kate Kooyman, Project Developer for the Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI

Bill Leonard, Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History at Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC

Jim Lyon, General Director of Church of God Ministries, Anderson, IN

Carlos Malavé, Executive Director of Christian Churches Together, Louisville, KY

Eric Mason, Chair of Biblical Studies at Judson University, Algonquin, IL

Brian McLaren, Christian author and theologian, Ocala, FL

Jonathan Merritt, Senior columnist for Religion News Service, Brooklyn, NY

Sam Mikolaski, Retired Southern Baptist Theological Professor and former President of the Atlantic Baptist  College, Oceanside, CA

Kelvin Moore, University Professor of Biblical Studies at Union University and Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Bradford, TN

Morris Murray, Jr.,  Associate Pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Japser, AL

John Phelan, Former President and current Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL

Paul Richardson, Former Treasurer and Board member of the Alliance of Baptists, Birmingham, AL

Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, Sacramento, CA

Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, Washington, D.C.

Walter Shurden, Minister at Large at Mercer University, Macon, GA

Tony Suarez, Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONEL, Virginia Beach, VA

Peter Vander Meulen, Coordinator of the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI

Jim Wallis, Founder of Sojourners, Washington, DC

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Associate Minister of St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church, Durham, NC

Angie Wright, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Birmingham, AL

 

Jordan Smith in The Intercept: “Jeff Wood Didn’t Kill Anyone, but Texas is About to Execute Him Anyway”

IMG_0061-crop-4-1024x512-2Jordan Smith of The Intercept explains the case of Jeff Wood and the law of parties in her August 2, 2016 article, “Jeff Wood Didn’t Kill Anyone, but Texas is About to Execute Him Anyway”.

Some excerpts:

The use of the law of parties in Texas death penalty cases has been controversial. It earned the state harsh criticism from around the world in the case of Kenneth Foster, who was tried for capital murder in connection with the 1996 killing of Michael LaHood Jr., the son of a prominent San Antonio lawyer. Foster drove a car that the triggerman was riding in but said he had no idea the man would shoot anyone. The state pointed out that in the hours before LaHood was killed, Foster and three others, including the triggerman, had committed two robberies at gunpoint while driving around the city, and that Foster, as a “reasonable person,” should have anticipated that a murder might occur.

Arguably, Foster’s culpability for the death of LaHood was greater than Wood’s in the murder of his friend Keeran. Yet in 2007, Gov. Rick Perry granted clemency to Foster, commuting his sentence to life in prison. During his tenure as governor, Perry presided over nearly 300 executions; Foster’s was the only case where he exercised his discretionary clemency power to spare a life. (Other inmates whose sentences were commuted by Perry were done so pursuant to court order.)

Though Perry’s stated reason for granting Foster’s commutation was that he was jointly tried with the triggerman (co-defendants in Texas have no right to individual trials), Foster’s attorney, Keith Hampton, believes it was concern about Foster’s culpability that convinced the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend to Perry that Foster’s life be spared. (Texas law only allows the governor to grant discretionary clemency on a recommendation of the BPP.) Part of Hampton’s argument to the board was a religious and moral one: If the death penalty was intended as an eye-for-an-eye punishment, executing Foster would serve no moral purpose, because Mauriceo Brown, the triggerman, had already been executed. The same logic applies to Wood’s case, Hampton points out. Reneau was executed in 2002.
Excessive Punishment

More to the point, in Wood’s case the imposition of the death penalty seems almost certainly unconstitutional, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Enmund v. Florida. In that case, Earl Enmund was tried and sentenced to death for the murder of an elderly couple committed in the course of a robbery, even though he was not present during the robbery or the murders. Instead, he was sitting in the getaway car while the crime was committed. Florida’s highest court agreed that Enmund was a party to the robbery scheme and upheld the conviction and sentence, ruling that it was irrelevant whether he was present or whether he intended to kill anyone. The Supreme Court disagreed, noting that the death penalty was an excessive punishment for a robber. “Here, the focus must be on the petitioner’s culpability, not on those who committed the robbery and killings,” Justice Byron White wrote for the majority. “He did not kill or intend to kill, and thus his culpability is different from that of the robbers who killed, and it is impermissible for the State to treat them alike and attribute to petitioner the culpability of those who killed the victims.”

In 1987, the court issued a second opinion on the matter in a case known as Tison v. Arizona, carving out an exception to Enmund if the defendant was substantially involved in the crime at hand and “had the culpable mental state of reckless indifference to human life.”

In short, Hampton argues, it would appear that Wood’s execution, like Enmund’s, should be barred by the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Yet, this argument has never been made in any of Wood’s appeals, and one of Wood’s current lawyers, Jared Tyler, who has worked on the case since 2008, said he believes strongly that a court should consider the issue before it’s too late. “It is correct that no court has determined whether Mr. Wood’s execution is barred by the Eighth Amendment because [the punishment] would be disproportionate to his culpability,” Tyler wrote in an email to The Intercept. “We believe a court should do so before he is executed.”

My Uncle Didn’t Kill Anyone

In the absence of a ruling on the fundamental question of whether Wood’s sentence is constitutional, Terri Been and her children have pressed to amend the Texas law of parties to bar its use in death penalty cases — and possibly to provide Wood some retroactive relief. During the 2009 session they came tantalizingly close when a bill that would have banned the practice made it out of the fractious and largely pro-death penalty House and sailed through a Senate committee only to languish without being called up for a vote on the chamber’s floor.

That was heartbreaking for Terri, who had quit her job in 2008 in anticipation of the start of the biennial session the following January. Throughout the first part of 2009, she and her kids, under the banner of Kids Against the Death Penalty, were at the Capitol nearly every day, organizing with other abolitionists, talking to legislative staff, and testifying at committee hearings. She found an ally in Rep. Harold Dutton, an attorney from Houston, who signed on to the legislation. By the end of May, she was optimistic about the chances of getting the bill passed. But then, in the waning hours of the session, while waiting for the bill to be called up for a vote, she got a call from the aide of another of the bill’s sponsors saying that Gov. Perry was threatening a veto unless the bill was rewritten.

In addition to barring death in law of parties cases, the measure also codified the right for co-defendants to have separate trials. Perry was fine with that portion of the bill — after all, that was the reason he gave for commuting Foster’s sentence — but he wanted the law of parties provision to be excised. The bill died. That night, Terri wrote in a recent email, on the hour-long drive home from Austin, “I had a hard time … because it was hard to see underneath all of my tears.”

Terri and her family made great material and emotional sacrifices — she lost her job, her house, and her cars — fighting for her brother’s life. Still, Terri and her kids, now young adults, with the help of Dutton, have continued to fight for the law to be changed — though they have never gotten as close as they did in 2009.

In front of the governor’s mansion late last month, Wood’s supporters and his family carried signs castigating Texas law — “The law of parties executes innocent people!” — and admonishing Gov. Abbott to do the right thing. One sign featured a quote from Abbott himself, written in black marker: “Human life is not a commodity or an inconvenience. It is our most basic right. Without it, we have no other rights.”

Nick Been concluded his emotional speech with a plea to spare his uncle’s life: “I’ve been visiting death row, literally, since I was born. … My cousin Paige had to grow up without a father because of somebody else’s actions. My mother has missed her brother; my grandparents, their son,” he said.

“The ripples of Daniel Reneau’s actions are immeasurable,” he continued. He said that he and the family were only asking for fairness: His uncle didn’t kill anyone; punish him for robbery and let him live. “Punish actions,” he said, “not affiliations.” He turned slightly toward the white mansion behind him and addressed Gov. Abbott directly: “We’re asking you to do the right thing: Save Jeff Wood.”

Attorneys for Jeff Wood filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus today with the 216th District Court requesting a new, fair sentencing hearing

 

New Filing: TX Man Facing Execution Based on Testimony of Discredited Psychiatrist Must Have New, Fair Sentencing Hearing

Jeff Wood Was Not the Triggerman and Had No Previous Criminal History; Suffers from Borderline Intellectual Functioning and Mental Illness 

Austin – Attorneys for Jeff Wood, who is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus today with the 216th District Court requesting a new, fair sentencing hearing because Mr. Wood’s original sentencing hearing was prejudiced by the false and misleading testimony of the discredited psychiatrist Dr. James Grigson. The petition can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/2agwOye

Mr. Wood was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death under Texas’s “law of parties” after another man, Daniel Reneau, killed a convenience store clerk in Kerrville in 1996 while attempting to rob it. Mr. Reneau, who was executed in 2002, committed the crime while Mr. Wood was outside the building, sitting in a truck. (p. 1) Mr. Wood had no criminal history until he fell under the influence of Mr. Reneau a few months before the crime for which he is scheduled to be executed. (pp. 7, 15)

“The man who actually committed this crime was executed in 2002. Jeff Wood, who was not even in the building at the time of the crime, was sentenced to death after false expert testimony about his future dangerousness was presented at his capital murder trial. Justice will be served if Mr. Wood is spared from execution and given a new sentencing hearing,” said Jared Tyler, a Houston-based attorney who represents Mr. Wood. “I believe that no person in the history of the modern death penalty has been executed with as little culpability and participation in the taking of a life as Mr. Wood. In that respect, his execution may mark a national first.”

Executions under the law of parties or similar laws in other states are rare. The Death Penalty Information Center has confirmed only 10 cases, five of which were in Texas (http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/those-executed-who-did-not-directly-kill-victim).

In Mr. Wood’s trial, Dr. Grigson testified that Mr. Wood “certainly” would be criminally violent in the future based on a hypothetical given to him by the prosecution. (pp. 27-28) Dr. Grigson never personally evaluated Mr. Wood. (p. 68)

In 1995, three years before he testified in Mr. Wood’s trial, Dr. Grigson was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for flagrant ethical violations involving this same conduct. (p. 26)

The organizations found these kinds of hypotheticals “grossly inadequate to elucidate a competent medical, psychiatric differential diagnostic understanding adequate for diagnosing a mental illness according to current standards.” (p. 25) Dr. Grigson was also faulted by the organizations for testifying that he could predict with certainty that a defendant would be criminally dangerous in the future. (p. 25)

In 2004, a federal judge found that Dr. Grigson had falsely testified in that case by “exaggerat[ing] the degree of his certainty that [the defendant] would be dangerous in the future.” (p. 50) The judge also found that Dr. Grison “inflat[ed] the number of defendants he determined would not likely be dangerous in the future” as “a conscious attempt to mislead the jury as to his objectivity.” (p. 50) A Texas judge has previously described Dr. Grigson’s testimony as “prejudicial beyond belief.” (p. 55) As a report analyzing the behavior of death-sentenced prisoners showed, Dr. Grigson has been proven wrong time and time again. (p. 22-24)

At Mr. Wood’s sentencing hearing, the jury also did not hear evidence that might have caused it to spare Mr. Wood’s life. Due to mental illness that should have rendered him incompetent to stand trial, Mr. Wood instructed his attorneys not to present any evidence on his behalf or cross-examine witnesses. (p. 40) The jury therefore never heard that Mr. Wood had borderline intellectual functioning and emotional and psychological impairments which rendered him vulnerable to Reneau. (pp. 2, 28) As a child, Mr. Wood suffered from several psychiatric disorders and was placed in special education. (pp. 3-5) A clinical neuropsychologist who tested Mr. Wood before trial found that he had significant cognitive impairments and had reading and spelling abilities ranging from the fourth to fifth grade levels. (pp. 30-31)

An earlier jury found Mr. Wood incompetent to stand trial based on clinical testimony about his delusional belief system. (p. 16) He was placed in the Vernon State Hospital, but was deemed competent 15 days later without having received any medication or treatment. (pp. 16-17)

###

Kenneth Foster Appeals to Save Jeff Wood and Reform Law of Parties

Picture20lg
Kenneth Foster with Laura Brady

When Death Comes Easy –

By Kenneth Foster, former Texas death row inmate

The battle against the Law of Parties in Texas continues. This archaic law plagues the criminal justice system with controversial capital murder convictions that result in death sentences for people who never killed anyone.

In summary, the law states that a person is criminally responsible as a party to an offense if he helped plan, knew of, or did not try to prevent the offense. Further, it states that even if a more egregious crime occurs in the carrying out of the original offense the non-principal (accomplice), who may never have even entered the crime scene area, is held criminally responsible for any and every offense committed by the principal offender.

This law has been under extreme scrutiny since my 2007 commutation. I was convicted as a getaway driver in 1997, yet I was over 70 ft. away from the crime in a car with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning on. A passenger in my car, Mauriceo Brown, stepped out of my vehicle and, according to prosecutors, attempted to rob a man, Michael La Hood, whom he wound up shooting and killing. Maurice jumped back in my car and I drove away.

Four people were in my car that night. Only Mauriceo and I were prosecuted and, against our objections, were forced to go to trial together. Brown testified that there was no plan to rob anyone — a statement not refuted by the state’s star witness, Julius Steen, who had been sitting in the front seat with me. But, the prosecutors convinced the jury it was a robbery anyway.

As an alleged accomplice, I was convicted alongside Mauriceo, and in May 2007, I received my execution date. Supporters worldwide rallied to my defense. The Board of Pardons and Parole voted 6-1 in favor of commutation. On August 30, 2016, Gov. Perry commuted my sentence. His stated his reason was that he was concerned about a Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously. He stopped short of acknowledging that there was no evidence that I agreed to commit even a robbery let alone a murder. If the jury had not convicted us of robbery at my trial, I would not be considered a party and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. I remain in prison, fighting my capital life sentence.

Many legislators are not aware of the Law of Parties works. But most who are familiar with it seem to be against any reform. In 2009, it appeared I might expect some legal relief when legislative Bill HB 2267, The Kenneth Foster Bill, was introduced. It prevented non-killers from execution and forbade joint trials in capital cases. Gov. Perry objected to omitting the death penalty for Law of Party defendants and promised to veto the bill if passed. Unfortunately, state representatives who sponsored the bill did not listen and the Lt. Governor, David Dewhurst, never called the bill, presumably at the request of Gov. Perry. It died in the Senate, thus ending the chance of passing a severance law which would have been beneficial to my case.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, under the “Law of Parties,” there have been at least seven executions of “accomplices” (those who had little to no knowledge of the depth and breadth of a crime that was to be committed by the principal), since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. This, is exclusive of murder-for-hire cases. Though the “Law of Parties” is derived from English Common Law, England abolished it 51 years ago. 24 of the 36 American death penalty states implement it.

This brings me to the current outcry over the case of Jeff Wood. He is scheduled to be executed on August 24. His crime was being an accomplice to a robbery. In his case, while Jeff waited outside in the car, the principal conspirator took the plan into his own hands and shot and killed the store clerk. According to Texas Penal Code 7.02b: “If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit a felony (robbery), another felony (murder) is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in the furtherance of unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the “conspiracy.” Therefore, by the Law of Parties, though Jeff Wood did not have the gun, nor any influence over the person pulling the trigger and committing the murder, he is treated as though he planned the murder and pulled the trigger himself. Even if the law provides he be tried for the crime as if he were the principal, how could it provide a punishment (the death penalty) for someone who had no influence in the murder and is to be used in the most extreme of cases?

The Law of Parties bill also states in 7.02 (a) that one may receive a death sentence if: “acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense.” How can there be a fair and constitutional judgment regarding a standard of guilt under a single statute, when it has different criteria that are antithetical?

It’s hard to understand the opposition to reforming the Law of Parties as it is currently written as it has some severe flaws that allow people to be put to death that neither committed murder nor intended that murder would ever be carried out. University of Texas professor Jordon Steiker says the law’s application “flies in the face of a broader effort to reserve the death penalty for extreme cases.” A fair and equitable law should include careful consideration as to the extent in which an accomplice in one crime is held accountable for the actions of the principal(s) who carry out further crimes.

Because lives are literally at stake, the law should be rewritten so that prosecutors must prove a party had the intention to murder before a death sentence is applied. The language “should have been anticipated” is so ambiguous it needs to be removed. Without reform, broad criteria such as this ensnares people like Jeff Wood who is now forced to face the Texas death machine even though he never killed.

You can show your support against the Law of Parties by speaking out for Jeff Wood. Here are four ways you can help:

• Sign his petition: https://www.change.org/p/governor-abbott-and-the-texas-boar…

• Write a clemency letter –
http://savejeffwood.com/how-to-help Mail to both the Governor of Texas and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. A sample clemency letter, with addresses for both, can be found here: *Please also send a copy of your letter to the Save Jeff Wood Campaign at 246 County Road 7611, Devine, Texas, 78016

• Donate to his campaignhttps://www.generosity.com/…/campaign-to-save-jeff-wood-fro…

• Write Your Legislators
Demand that the Law of Parties be reformed. 7.02 (b). Copy the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole and politicians: Senator-elect Borris Miles, State Rep. Harold Dutton and Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who are supportive of the Law of Parties reform.

Texas Monthly Asks: Does This Man Deserve to Die?


IMG_1214
Texas Monthly published a well-researched op-ed on Jeff Wood, written by Sabine Heinlein, entitled “Does This Man Deserve to Die?“, excerpts:

Many states have laws comparable to Texas’s Law of Parties, but few apply them to the death penalty; fewer still have actually executed people who didn’t directly cause someone else’s death. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, only 10 individuals who didn’t directly kill the victim have been executed, one each in Florida, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Missouri, and the remaining five in Texas. What sets these cases apart from Wood’s is that most capital defendants were present during the murder, sometimes even fired shots or participated in torturing the victim.

“What you have is a statute that allows someone who is a party to be sentenced to death under what I believe is a lesser burden than being the actual triggerman,” says Tim Cole, a law professor at the University of North Texas and former district attorney of the 97th district. “I think there is a problem with that. These days, defense attorneys are put under a microscope. This kind of case would not be tried as a death penalty case in most places, probably not even here in Texas.”

Few people know that the death penalty can be applied when someone is convicted under the Law of Parties—and among those who do, it has long been a contentious issue. In 2009, Jeffrey Wood’s sister, Terri Been, and a group of advocates from the Texas Moratorium Network came close to having a bill passed by the state Legislature that would have limited the death penalty as a sentencing option under the Law of Parties. The Texas House of Representatives approved the bill, but Rick Perry, who was governor at the time, threatened to veto it if it went through the Senate. It will be reintroduced in the next legislative session, in January 2017.

But let’s give the law as it stands now the benefit of the doubt: If Wood didn’t suffer from emotional and intellectual impairment, one could potentially argue that he should have been able to anticipate that Reneau would murder Keeran. But even then, the Supreme Court has held that the death penalty “be limited to those offenders … whose extreme culpability makes them the most deserving of execution.” The death penalty is reserved for “the worst of the worst,” according to the Supreme Court. If Wood wasn’t present for the shooting, is he equally responsible as Reneau for Keeran’s death? Is an intellectually impaired man who drove the getaway car the worst of the worst? Would a prosecutor seek the death penalty in Jeffrey Wood’s case today?

“If I had this case to make a decision on today,” wrote Wilke, who is an assistant district attorney in Kerrville, “I would make the same decision.” But had Wood been tried today, it is unlikely he would be sentenced to death. In 1999 juries sent 38 people to death row; in 2015 and 2016 combined, they condemned just five new individuals to death, none of them under the Law of Parties.

 …

Wood’s lawyer and family are now seeking clemency, but could it be granted? Clemency is rare but not entirely unheard of. Since the death penalty was reinstated, 280 death sentences have been commuted on humanitarian grounds, often because of possible innocence, but also because some governors considered the death sentence disproportionate to the crimes the prisoners were convicted of, or because they acknowledged a “disturbing racial pattern.” (Almost 42 percent of all people on death row are black, compared to roughly 12 percent in the general population. Wood is white.)

In Texas only two death row inmates have been granted clemency since 1976. (The state has executed 537 people and counting in that time, more than any other state in America.) In 1998, Governor George W. Bush commuted alleged serial killer Henry Lucas’s sentence to life without parole, citing possible innocence. Lucas died in prison in 2001. In 2007, Rick Perry, under whose tenure 319 individuals were killed, spared the life of Kenneth Foster who, like Wood, was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties.

Since he was sworn in on January 2015, Governor Greg Abbott has not granted a single clemency. Nineteen executions have taken place during his time in office, and seven more death-row inmates are scheduled to die by the end of October.

“The commutation process in Texas has been criticized as being virtually non-existent, and that has not changed significantly from Governor Bush to Governor Perry to Governor Abbott,” says Robert Dunham, director of The Death Penalty Information Center and former capital defense attorney. Yet, Dunham says, there has been a remarkable change in public opinion on capital punishment. Today 61 percent of Americans favor the death penalty, compared to 80 percent in 1994, according to a recent Gallup poll.

In general, people are more skeptical than ever of the variables that factor into death sentences. “The single most likely fact that determines whether you face the death penalty is what county did the offense take place in and what’s the prosecutor’s view about the death penalty,” Dunham says. “When you look at the crimes committed by people who were sentenced to life and the crimes committed by people who were sentenced to death you can find very little difference between the two. There’s more and more evidence that the death sentence has been administered arbitrarily and unfairly.” Dunham adds, “And it does not make the public safer. There is no evidence that the death penalty deters.”

Wood’s chance for life now rests on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and on Governor Abbott, who together have the power to commute his sentence. Wood’s clemency application is due by Wednesday, August 3, 2016, three weeks before his scheduled execution. The TBPP releases its recommendation to the governor 48 hours before the scheduled execution. If a majority of the board recommends clemency, the governor can grant a commutation of Wood’s sentence to life in prison or a one-time, 30-day reprieve of execution.

Read the full article here.

Texas Tribune Coverage of Rally to Save Jeff Wood on July 23, 2016

Rally Questions Death Penalty for Texas Man Who Didn’t Pull Trigger

TXT-JeffWoodRally-Richmond003_jpg_800x1000_q100 (1)

On Saturday, relatives and supporters of death row inmate Jeff Wood braved the Texas summer heat to gather outside Gov. Greg Abbott’s mansion, hoping their state’s leader will halt the execution and commute Wood’s sentence for one reason — Wood never killed anyone.

On Jan. 2, 1996, Wood, 22 at the time, waited in a car while Daniel Reneau robbed a Kerrville convenience store and shot the clerk, Kriss Keeran, according to a clemency petition from 2008.

Wood was charged with capital murder under Texas’ law of parties, which states that a person can be charged of a crime he didn’t commit if he helped or “should have anticipated it as a result” of another crime, like a robbery, according to the Texas penal code. Wood was sentenced to death as was Reneau, who was executed in 2002.

Huddled under the shade of trees outside the mansion’s gates in the 100-degree heat, Wood’s family and about 30 other people carried signs with Wood’s face on them and wore T-shirts that said “Punish action. Not affiliation.”

Terri Been, Wood’s sister, told the small crowd that her brother did not commit or conspire to commit murder and that he didn’t even know Reneau had a gun when he entered the store.

“So I ask you, Governor Abbott, how is this justice?” Been said toward the mansion. “My brother is not a monster; he is not a killer.”

A spokesman for Abbott’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment for this article.

At Saturday’s rally, Tommy Ramirez, a trial lawyer from Devine, held a sign calling to save Wood, but said he is not against the death penalty or the law of parties. The law was meant for mobsters or someone who paid to have someone killed, he said.

“In this case, we got a … kid, with no record, hanging with the wrong people,” Ramirez said. “He did not know anyone was going to be murdered.”

Executions under the law of parties or similar laws in other states, are rare. The Death Penalty Information Center has confirmed only 10 cases, five of which were in Texas.

In 2007, then-Gov. Rick Perry changed Kenneth Foster’s sentence from death to life in prison hours before his execution. Like Wood, Foster was the getaway driver in a robbery that turned to murder.

But two years later, Perry refused to halt the execution of Robert Thompson in a similar case after the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended clemency, according to the Houston Chronicle. The triggerman in that murder received life, not death.

Jeff Wood was originally scheduled to be executed in 2008, but the execution was stayed by a federal district court, according to court documents. He has been on death row for more than 18 years.

A petition asking the governor and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stay the execution and commute Wood’s sentence will be sent early next month, according to Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

With sweat on their brows, Wood’s supporters hoped Abbott would hear their cries from his gate and stop his execution, scheduled for Aug. 24.

“We do not want Jeff Wood to be executed. Not on the 24th, not ever!” said Gloria Rubac, an anti-death penalty activist. “We got a stay for Jeff [before], and we’re gonna do it again!”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2016/07/23/texas-rally-abbott-death-penalty-law-of-parties/.

Rally to Stop Execution of Jeff Wood, Saturday July 23, at Texas Governor’s Mansion

Texas_governors_mansionAttend the rally to stop the execution of Jeff Wood at the Texas Governor’s Mansion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.

Tell Governor Abbott and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the execution of Jeff Wood! Texas has set his execution for August 24th – despite the fact that he killed no one.

Meet at the front gate of the mansion at 4 PM, 1010 Colorado St, Austin, Texas.

Terri Been, sister of Jeff Wood, will speak at the rally, as well as others.

Sponsors include Texas Moratorium Network, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement. Contact the organizers on the event page to be listed as a co-sponsor.

 

In 2007, we stopped the execution of Kenneth Foster – also sentenced under the Law of Parties in Texas. Since then, this law has been scrutinized by the Texas legislature, although they haven’t taken action to change it. People are looking at this law and at Jeff’s case – and we have a chance to save him!

———————————————————————–
Here are are some actions you can take:
FOR TEXANS: Attend and spread the word about this rally for Jeff, planned for Saturday, July 23rd at 4PM at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, TX.
*For information about a caravan from Houston, please visit contact the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement at https://www.facebook.com/groups/272…
Sign and share this petition for Jeff Wood. We need to gather as many signatures as possible over the next few weeks.
Write a clemency letter for Jeff – and think of others you can ask to write a letter, including prominent people in your community. Copies of your letter should be mailed to both the Governor of Texas and the Board of Pardons and Paroles. A sample clemency letter, with addresses for both, can be found here: http://nodeathpenalty.org/sites/def…
*Please also send a copy of your letter to the Save Jeff Wood Campaign at 246 County Road 7611, Devine, Texas, 78016
Donate to the campaign to Save Jeff Wood. As the fundraising page states – we need funds to pay for printing, postage, travel, hosting death row exonerates and others to speak out for Jeff, as well as other unforeseen expenses.
———————————————————————–
Jeff was charged under the controversial Law of Parties, and was not the shooter in this crime, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. This unjust law states that even though a co-defendant may NOT have participated in the crime or caused a death, he can still face the death penalty. It also states that he should have “anticipated” the crime; which was not possible in this case as Jeff had no knowledge that a robbery would even be taking place that day, let alone a murder. Even if a person did not harm anyone, they can still get the death penalty if they were involved in a crime where someone else killed a person, because they should have “anticipated that a human life would be taken.”