Republican Texas State Rep. Leach Tries to Stop Jeff Wood’s Execution

State Rep. Leach Tries to Stop Jeff Wood Execution

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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 board and 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.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/08/17/state-rep-leach-speaks-out-against-jeff-wood-execu/.

We will deliver petition supporting clemency for Jeff Wood Thursday August 18 to Gov Abbott and BPP

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.

You can still sign the petition.

We will still collect signatures after tomorrow and deliver the additional signatures later.

Washington Post Article: “How is my brother the worst of the worst?”

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Terri Been, left. Jeff Wood, middle.

Kristine Guerra of The Washington Post breaks her readers hearts with the lead into her story on Jeff Wood: “In Texas, a man who didn’t kill anybody is about to be executed for murder“.

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.

Read the rest of the article at The Washington Post.

 

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.”

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