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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

National Consensus Against Executing Non Killers Like Jeff Wood?

Thursday, August 21, Texas is set to execute Jeff Wood even though he did not kill anyone. The person who actually killed the victim has already been executed by Texas. Yesterday, the Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against clemency for Wood, but Governor Perry can still stop this execution by issuing a 30 day stay of execution.

Please call Governor Perry at 512-463-2000 and urge him to issue a 30 day stay of execution for Wood. You can also send Perry an email through his website.

The Washington Post reports:

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Jeffery Lee Wood by lethal injection tonight, even though he did not actually kill anyone. Wood was sitting in a truck outside a convenience store when an accomplice shot and killed a cashier in a botched robbery 12 years ago.

If the execution moves forward, Wood, 35, will become only the eighth person to be put to death as an accomplice since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. More than 1,100 people have been executed during this period. The executed accomplices do not include those who were put to death for hiring someone to commit murder.

"It is very, very rare," said David Fathi, U.S. program director for Human Rights Watch. "This is a case that illustrates everything that is wrong with the death penalty in Texas."

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court banned executions of juvenile offenders on the basis that a national consensus had formed against executing such people. At the time, 22 juvenile offenders had been executed, so it was very rare for such executions to be carried out.

There have only been 7 executions of people who did not kill anyone but whose accomplices did, so it would appear that a national consensus also exists against executing people who did not kill anyone but who were sentenced to death because an accomplice killed someone in the course of another crime. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that executing juvenile offenders was constitutional and in that same year the Court ruled that executing people with mental retardation was constitutional. But in 2002 and 2005, the Court overturned its 1980's rulings and banned executions of both juveniles and people with mental retardation. The Court should now intervene in the Wood execution on the same basis, that executing people like Wood, who did not actually kill anyone, is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment and that since the last Court ruling in 1987 a national consensus against such executions has developed, shown by the fact that only 7 such executions have taken place.

There have been two cases, both in the 1980s, when the Court ruled on this issue.

From the Washington Post:

A 1982 decision by the Supreme Court appears to support such a view. The court decided 5 to 4 in Enmund v. Florida that imposing the death penalty on a defendant when a murder was committed by others was a violation of the Eighth Amendment if the defendant "does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place, or lethal force will be employed."

But a second 5 to 4 decision by the court appears to support Texas. In Tison v. Arizona, a case in which family members broke their father out of prison and then killed a family of four that they flagged down to help repair their getaway car, the court said that the death penalty could apply if it could be shown that the defendant was a "major participant" in the felony and acted with "reckless indifference to human life."

"That's why I think this issue may come back to the Supreme Court," Dieter said. "This is an area that needs some clarification."

Governor Perry can issue a 30 day stay and then he could request another review by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. He could request the board to commute the sentence to life in prison or to issue a long enough stay for the next session of the Legislature to review the law of parties so that a person could not be sentenced to death unless they actually killed someone. If they only played a role in one offense, but did not intend to kill anyone, then they should not be subject to the death penalty. In such cases, they could be sentenced to a term in prison up to life in prison.

More on the Jeff Wood case can be found at www.savejeffwood.com, including information that Wood has had mental illness issues since childhood. At his trial, he even refused to allow his lawyers to bring witnesses on his behalf during the penalty phase.

An excellent presentation of why Jeff Wood's sentence should be commuted to life can be read in the 22 page application for commutation written by his lawyers. They write, "Mr. Wood undeniably shares responsibility for what happened to Mr. Keeran, and should be held accountable for his reckless acts, but no man ever deserves to die for another man's acts.".

A letter from ten Texas legislators urging clemency is here.

Another letter from State Rep Mike Villareal is here. In addition, State Rep Dora Olivo has also written a letter.

The victim's father, Charles Keeran, also would like to see Wood live. “The death penalty, to me, is the easy way out,” he said. “If you had to be down there and get up every morning, as hot and humid as it is, knowing that you are going to spend the rest of your life locked up under those conditions, that's punishment. That's what I think my son would want for him.”

Charles Keeran also called the governor's office on the day that Daniel Reneau was executed, urging the governor to commute Reneau's sentence to life, even though Reneau is the person who actually killed Mr. Keeran's son.

If the death penalty is used, it should be reserved for the worst of the worst killers. Jeff Wood is not even a killer, much less one of the worst of the worst of all killers.

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