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Monday, August 11, 2008

Texas Man Who Didn't Kill May Be Executed

Jeff Wood is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 21 despite the fact that he did not kill anyone. He was sentence to death under Texas' "Law of Parties". ABC News put a story on Jeff Wood on the front page of their national website on Friday, "Texas Man Who Didn't Kill May Be Executed: Jeff Wood Didn't Kill Kris Keeran, but He Is Set to Be Executed for Keeran's Death".

Excerpt from ABC News story:

Texas is scheduled to put a man to death this month even though he never killed anyone, in what would apparently be the first execution of its kind in more than a decade.

Jeff Wood was sentenced to death in 1998 for his role in the murder of Kris Keeran, a gas station attendant who was killed during a 1996 robbery.

But Wood did not kill Keeran. Danny Reneau, Wood's former roommate, was convicted of shooting Keeran between the eyes during the robbery Jan. 2, 1996. Reneau was executed in 2002.

Barring a commutation from the governor, Wood, 35, will be put to death Aug. 21.

Wood was the getaway driver while Reneau robbed the Kerrvill, Texas, gas station where Keeran worked. Reneau shot and killed Keeran after he refused to go along with a plan to fake a robbery and split the proceeds, according to court documents.

Wood, who told police Keeran was a friend, later admitted that he came into the store after hearing the gunshot that killed Keeran, court opinions in the case say. Wood then helped Reneau take the store VCR and surveillance tapes -- he claimed only after Reneau forced him to do so at gunpoint.

Wood was convicted under a Texas law known as the law of parties, which makes Wood equally responsible for crimes committed by his accomplices that "should have been anticipated" during the course of the robbery -- even if he did not commit the crimes.

Though most states have similar laws, often called felony murder statutes, they are rarely used in death penalty cases. The last execution under a similar law was in 1996, in Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. There have been seven such executions, excluding murder-for-hire cases, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the center.

Texas' law of parties statute is also broader than similar laws in most other states, said Robert Owen, director of the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.

"It's terribly risky to allow the death penalty to be imposed where the jury has to draw inferences about what was in the defendant's mind," said Owen. "There are serious questions about whether a getaway driver who might have anticipated that a death would take place should be death penalty eligible."

Some people who normally support the death penalty believe it is not warranted in this case:

From the Save Jeff Wood petition:

"Unlike many who have responded to this case, I am not an opponent of the death penalty. However, having read the circumstances of this case, it seems unconscionable that the State of Texas (my home for 30 years) could execute Jeff Wood. It is apparent that he was involved in a crime, and may have even been blackmailed into participation, however, that notwithstanding, he is not a murderer. There was no premeditation or even any knowledge on his part that a murder would occur, and was not in the store at the time of the shooting. I supported your refusal to back down on the Medellin execution. I have always believed in capital punishment. My Bible even seems to support it, but even in the Old Testament, it says "the murderer shall surely be put to death." Since you have already executed the shooter, that standard has been met. Jeff Wood should have never been found guilty of capital murder, regardless of his mental capacity. Please grant him clemency.
Larry & Cathy Giuliani, Parker, Colorado

Heliberto Chi was executed in Texas last week. He had been convicted and sentenced to death for a robbery/murder in a suburban Dallas store in 2001. The Houston Chronicle reported that an accomplice who drove the getaway car for Chi was given a life sentence instead of the death penalty:

The getaway driver at the murder scene, Hugo Sierra, who is the brother of Chi's girlfriend, is serving a life prison term.
On August 21, Texas plans to execute Jeff Wood for being the getaway driver for Daniel Reneau, who killed a clerk during a robbery. And Jeff Wood was forced by Reneau to drive the getaway car at gunpoint. In one case, the getaway driver does not get life under the law of parties, but in the other case the getaway driver gets the death sentence. This shows how arbitray capital sentencing is in Texas. Two similar cases, but with very different sentences for an accomplice who did not kill.

Even, Charles Keeran, the father of the victim who was killed by Daniel Reneau does not want Jeff Wood to die, he prefers that he serve life in prison. "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."

The lawyers for Jeff Wood have submitted an application for clemency to the Governor and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. You can read the entire 22 page application online here. 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. Justice was served in this case when the State of Texas executed Daniel Reneau on June 13, 2002; the continued imprisonment of Mr. Wood will continue to serve justice".

Additional Facts:


* Wood suffers from severe mental, emotional and learning disabilities. He was abused and beaten severely and repeatedly as a child. He is submissive to more dominant personalities because of the abuse during his childhood.

* Wood was initially found not mentally fit to stand trial. He was admitted into a mental hospital and a couple of weeks later was found 'trial ready'.

* At trial, Wood was not satisfied with his representation. Wood asked to represent himself, but wasn't allowed to do so. The judge found him not capable of representing himself. The judge however, did not argue when Wood, in his diminished mental capacity, ordered his attorneys not to do anything during the punishment phase of his trial. The result was that Jeff had no witnesses during the punishment phase of his trial on his behalf. If his lawyers had been able to call witnesses during the penalty phase, the jury would have heard about Wood's mental problems and his abusive childhood and may not have sentenced him to death.

* The State’s use of the discredited Dr. James Grigson—nicknamed “Dr. Death”—in a non-adversarial proceeding guaranteed a death sentence for Mr. Wood. Indeed, his testimony, unopposed, compelled the jury to answer the special issues in the manner they did. His uncontested—un-cross-examined—testimony required the jury to find that Mr. Wood would be a future danger. Despite having a valid license, Grigson was a medical fraud, although Mr. Wood’s jury did not know it. In 1995, three years before he testified in Mr. Wood’s trial, Grigson was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for flagrant ethical violations related to his testimony purporting to predict future dangerousness

* The victim's father called the Governor of Texas on the day of Daniel Reneau's execution and urged the governor not to execute the person who actually killed his son. The father also does not want Jeff Wood to die, preferring that his sentence be commuted to life in prison.

Visit the Save Jeff Wood website at www.savejeffwood.com for more information.

You can send an email to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles by clicking here.

You can sign an online petition supporting clemency for Jeff Wood here.

Call Governor Perry at (512) 463-2000. Make sure they take your message down that you do not want Jeff Wood executed.

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