Evangelical leaders support clemency for Jeff Wood

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 Jeff Wood’s life. 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.

Wood’s application for clemency noted that, in recent years, the Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended commutations for two people who, like Wood, did not take a life themselves.  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 Wood was outside the building and who was executed in 2002. Wood’s clemency petition can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2aGNOOP.

Here are links to coverage of the Evangelicals’ letter:

“Evangelical leaders: Texas has ‘moral obligation’ to stop execution of death row prisoner”: http://www.christiantoday.com/article/evangelical.leaders.texas.has.moral.obligation.to.stop.execution.of.death.row.prisoner/92696.htm

“Baptist ministers join call to halt execution”: https://www.baptiststandard.com/news/texas/19371-baptist-ministers-join-call-to-halt-execution

“Evangelicals urge halt to Texas execution”: https://baptistnews.com/article/evangelicals-urge-halt-to-texas-execution/

More background about Wood’s case appears in the below press release that announced the filing of a habeas corpus petition on his behalf.

For Immediate Release: August 2, 2016

Contact: Margot Friedman at mfriedman@dupontcirclecommunications.com or 202-332-5550 or Kate Black at kateblack@texasdefender.org or 303-818-0370

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)

For more information, please contact Margot Friedman at mfriedman@dupontcirclecommunications.com or 202-332-5550 or Kate Black at kateblack@texasdefender.org or 303-818-0370.

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