death penalty news—-TEXAS

Aug. 15

TEXAS—-stay of impending execution

Killeen inmate set to die receives stay of execution

For the 2nd time this year, a condemned Killeen killer received good news.

Denard Manns, 43, was scheduled to die Aug. 20, but a U.S. district judge
ordered that the execution be delayed since Manns was without counsel.

Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said Thursday that Manns'
execution is now set for Nov. 13. Manns was sentenced to die by a Bell
County jury for the Nov. 19, 1998, fatal shooting of an Army medic at her
home in Killeen.

The order will only buy Manns a few months and will come 6 days shy of the
10th anniversary of the shooting that put him on death row.

Walter S. Smith Jr., chief judge in the United States District Court for
the Western District, Waco Division, issued the order to delay the
execution since Manns' attorney, Walter Reeves, was removed from the case.

Manns' execution date was set for Jan. 20, but it was put on hold. The
Supreme Court refused to hear Manns' case earlier this year after his
execution date was withdrawn pending the outcome of a Kentucky case the
Supreme Court was hearing in Washington.

That case challenged the lethal injection procedure used for executions in
Kentucky and 35 other states, including Texas, as unconstitutionally

Manns has already had appeals denied in state and national appellate

Manns was found guilty in 2002 of killing Christine Robson, 26, who was
attacked at her apartment in November 1998.

Manns was a recent parolee from New York, where he had been imprisoned a
2nd time for armed robbery.

Evidence showed he was living with relatives 2 doors down from the
victim's apartment. There was no sign of forced entry, leading authorities
to believe she knew her attacker.

Manns' fingerprint was found on the .22-caliber pistol identified as the
murder weapon. His DNA was detected on clothing on her body, and at the
time of his arrest, he was in possession of her jacket and was carrying
her jewelry.

Court files show he told a fellow inmate details of the crime that only
the killer would have known because they had not been made public.

In earlier appeals turned down by the courts, Manns insisted the evidence
was insufficient to identify him as the killer and argued unsuccessfully
that his half-brother was responsible for the slaying.

Evidence showed Robson was shot at least four times in the head and also
was robbed of credit cards, cash and her car.

Manns testified at his trial that he never was inside her apartment, never
had sex with her, and got her jacket from a friend who had committed
burglaries in the neighborhood and her jewelry from a drug addict.

(source: Killeen Daily Herald)


Texas to review arson case that ended in execution

A Texas panel will investigate whether a man executed for setting a fire
that killed his three daughters actually started the blaze.

The Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed Friday to review conclusions
that Cameron Todd Willingham set the fire in 1991. He was executed in

It will be the 1st investigation by the commission, created in 2005 to
look into allegations of forensic misconduct in the nation's busiest
capital punishment state.

The Innocence Project, a legal group that works to overturn wrongful
convictions, says experts in a report it commissioned concluded the fire
was not intentionally set.

(source: Associated Press)


Death sentence upheld despite Bible in jury room

A federal appeals court has ruled that East Texas jurors wrongly used a
Bible during deliberations in a capital murder case, but that there isn't
enough evidence to show they were prejudiced when they decided to send a
Waco man to death row for fatally shooting and bludgeoning a 64-year-old

The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals comes in the case of Khristian Oliver, condemned by a Nacogdoches
County jury in 1999, a year after authorities said he and 3 companions
were involved in the break-in and slaying.

Oliver's three accomplices received prison terms ranging from 5 to 99
years. He got the death penalty, and in his appeals lawyers contended
jurors improperly consulted Scripture that called for death as punishment
for murder.

"The jury's use of the Bible here amounts to a type of private
communication, contact or tampering that is outside the evidence and law,"
the New Orleans-based court said.

But the appeals court, in a ruling posted late Thursday, said it didn't
see enough evidence to overturn decisions from Oliver's trial court and
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that upheld the jury verdict.

"As Oliver has not presented clear and convincing evidence to rebut the
state court's finding that the Bible did not influence the jury's
decision, we cannot say that the jury's use of the Bible had a substantial
and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict," the
5th Circuit said.

The court last year upheld Oliver's conviction and denied his request for
a federal evidentiary hearing on the Bible-related claims but agreed to
consider arguments on the matter.

At issue was a passage in Chapter 35 of Numbers which, in the New American
Standard Bible, reads: "But if he struck him down with an iron object, so
that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to
death." Other versions of the Bible have similar passages, some referring
to an "iron rod" as the weapon.

The victim in the case, Joe Collins, was shot and then struck with the
barrel of a gun, which Oliver's lawyer said could be likened to an iron

"You could say God and Moses anticipated this exact thing if you take a
literal view of it," Winston Cochran said, discussing the case late last
year. "And that's got a lot of potential for mischief."

Cochran could not be reached Friday. A voice mail prompt at his phone
would not take a message.

Prosecutors had argued there never was an implication jurors voted based
on Scripture or had any kind of religious discussion.

Collins went out to pick up a hamburger for dinner in 1998 and returned to
his rural home to find Oliver, then 20, and 16-year-old Benny Rubalcaba
inside. Rubalcaba's 15-year-old brother and Oliver's girlfriend were
outside waiting in a pickup truck.

As the 2 intruders tried to run away, Collins got a rifle and shot Benny
Rubalcaba in the leg. Oliver fired his pistol at Collins, then grabbed the
man's rifle and beat him with it, evidence showed.

One of the teenagers later would say he saw Oliver swinging the rifle at
Collins like a golf club and then like an ax. The fatal wounds to Collins'
head and face left him nearly unrecognizable and with severe skull

Evidence showed Collins was shot five times by Oliver, with at least 2 of
the shots fired while the man was laying on his back on the ground outside
his house.

A neighbor found Collins dead in the front yard. Collins' hamburger was
still in a bag on the front seat of his pickup truck.

The wounded Rubalcaba, taken by his friends to a hospital, eventually told
police details of the attack. Oliver was arrested in Houston with his

Defense lawyers interviewing jurors after Oliver's capital murder trial
discovered jurors had Bibles with them during deliberations.

At a state district court hearing 2 months after the trial, four jurors
testified about the Bibles in the jury room and gave varying accounts,
ranging from one Bible to several being present. One juror testified they
had them because they would go to Bible study following court proceedings.
Another said any reading from the books came after they had reached a
decision. A 3rd said the reading of Scripture was intended to make people
feel better about their decision.

"There is contradictory evidence regarding whether the jurors'
consultation of the Bible occurred before or after the jury reached its
decision," the appeals court said. "Several jurors testified that the
Bible was not a focus of their discussions."

The court also noted the trial judge had instructed jurors to not refer to
or discuss anything that wasn't in evidence, and that the jurors brought
the Bibles on their own and without the knowledge of the judge.

Oliver does not have an execution date.

(source: Associated Press)


Unusual group rallies around Texas death row inmate Jeff Wood

An unusual coalition of folks is rallying to stop Thursday's execution of
Jeff Wood, the getaway driver in a deadly convenience store robbery in
Kerrville, Texas.

Predictably, it includes his Norwegian wife, Kristen Wood (at right) —
European women have a penchant for championing death row inmates — and
several juvenile relatives of Mr. Wood, who have formed an organization:
Kids Against the Death Penalty.

But perhaps most surprising is the stance of Charles Keeran, father of the
victim, convenience store clerk Kriss Keeran.

In 1997, when Daniel Reneau, the gunman in the 1996 robbery, was
convicted, Charles Keeran called Mr. Reneau and Mr. Wood "garbage."

"I want to see 'em die," he said.

Five years later he changed his mind, asking the governor to commute Mr.
Reneau's sentence because killing him wouldn't do any good. Mr. Reneau was
executed anyway, but Mr. Keeran is now asking that Mr. Woods be spared,
telling the San Antonio Express-News that death is "the easy way out" for
the Livingston inmate.

"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."

(source: Dallas Morning News)


Texas Planning to Execute Another Prisoner For a Murder he Didn't Commit

Jeff Wood was sentenced to death under Texas's draconian Law of Parties
for a murder that he did not plan or witness. He faces execution next

Texans — or at least Governor Rick Perry and his supporters — seem to
love the death penalty almost as much as flying the state flag. And last
week, the good ol' Texan bloodlust came under international scrutiny once
again when the state put to death a man born in Mexico, where capital
punishment is prohibited.

During the trial of death row inmate Jos Ernesto Medelln, he was not given
the opportunity to seek legal help from Mexican consulates, a right
granted under the 1963 Vienna Convention. Appeals from all over the world
— including one from the UN's International Court of Justice and another
from President Bush himself — pointed out the discrepancy and asked the
state to delay the execution till Medelln's case could be further
reviewed. But Perry refused to put on the brakes, and Medelln died of a
lethal injection on August 6th.

"Texans are doing just fine governing Texas," Perry said last year in
response to the European Union's request that he reconsider another death
row case involving a young man who had never been accused of directly
participating in the murder to which he was linked. Given Perry's
audacity, perhaps it's no surprise he has single-handedly overseen more
executions than any other governor in the country since the death penalty
was reinstated in 1976. He also vetoed a ban on the execution of mentally
handicapped inmates in 2002. And since 1976, Texas has carried out more
executions than any other state: 409 — more than 4 times as many as
Virginia, its nearest competitor, with 99.

At the same time, it's not that difficult to understand why Perry might
not have been terribly sympathetic to Medelln: There seems to be no
question that the Mexican took part in the raping and killing of two
teenage girls in 1993 as part of a gang initiation rite. But the story of
a young man named Jeff Wood, set to be put to death on August 21, more
poignantly highlights the injustices of the Texan judicial system.

Despite the fact that the death penalty is supposedly reserved for only
the most heinous crimes, Wood is sentenced to death for a murder that
prosecutors have never accused him of committing — one that took place
when he wasn't even in the same building. Rather, he was outside in a gas
station parking lot, waiting in a pick-up truck for his buddy, Daniel
Reneau, to come out of a road-side store with drinks and snacks. Wood
contends that he didn't know Reneau was planning to rob the store — a
frequent hang-out spot for the 2 of them — and that he also had no idea
Reneau was going to murder the store clerk, Kris Keeran, a friend of both

But after hearing a shot ring out on the morning of January 2, 1996, Wood
ran inside and saw Keeran laying dead from a single .22-caliber bullet
that entered between his eye and his nose. Reneau was holding the gun,
which he then turned on Wood, ordering him to grab the store's
surveillance video. Wood — who suffers from learning disabilities and
mental problems as a result of severe physical abuse during his childhood
— complied. Reneau took the store's safe, and the 2 of them fled to
Wood's brother house.

Wood and Reneau had talked with the manager of the store about robbing the
place on New Year's Day, when the register would be full of money from the
night before. But after Wood backed out, he assumed, since he heard no
more about it, that the robbery plan was kaput. Instead, Reneau decided to
go through with it on his own. Wood contends he had no idea Reneau was
even packing a gun at the time of the robbery.

Reneau was executed for the murder in 2002. But thanks to the Texas "Law
of Parties", anyone who conspires with another person or a group to commit
one crime (like robbery) and happens to commit another crime in the
process (like murder) can be found guilty of the secondary crime — even
if the individual in question wasn't directly involved in planning it or
carrying it out. And when the secondary crime is murder, that person can
also be put to death for it. That's the state's justification for why Wood
is on death row — except, of course, that Wood claims he wasn't involved
in planning the robbery and that he would never have helped Reneau try to
get away with it if Reneau hadn't trained a gun on him. As such, there's
been a huge public outcry in support of Wood; the 2nd of 2 rallies this
month to draw attention to his plight will take place on Saturday, August

Wood's situation is similar to another recent case in Texas, that of
Kenneth Foster — the one that drew the attention of the European Union.
Like Wood, Foster did not participate in the actual murder he was
sentenced to die for. Like Wood, Foster did not hold a gun at any point
while the crime he was linked to was committed. Like Wood, Foster has
maintained — convincingly — that he had no foreknowledge the murder was
going to happen. Like Wood, Foster was forced to drive the "getaway" car.

Following demands from around the world that Texas review the Foster case,
the Texas board of pardons and paroles recommended that his sentence be
commuted — a rare occurrence. Even more unusually, Governor Perry
actually took the board's advice and, three hours before Foster's
execution was set to happen, stopped it: the first time in nearly seven
years in office that he had done so (excluding cases in which Supreme
Court rulings had barred the execution of juveniles and the mentally

Will Perry commute the sentence this time, for Wood, like he did for
Foster? The cases are so similar that there seems to be hope that he will.
Then again, when announcing his decision in the Foster case, Perry didn't
mention how problematic the Law of Parties is; instead, he cited a
procedural flaw. (Foster was tried simultaneously with the guy convicted
of the actual murder; that's what Perry referred to after commuting his
sentence.) So who knows.

But maybe Perry and the state of Texas should finally start to think about
how unconstitutional it is to execute someone based on the Law of Parties.
After all, in their 1982 ruling in the case of Enmund v. Florida, the
Supreme Court found it was unconstitutional to execute the driver of a
get-away car in an armed robbery. The court's rationale was that the 8th
amendment forbids imposing capital punishment on someone "who aids and
abets a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by others but
who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take
place or that lethal force will be employed". Why can't Texas see that by
using the "Law of Parties" as a justification for execution, they are not
just aiding and abetting but planning and carrying out pre-meditated
murders which should not be occurring — and contributing to a cycle of
violence and injustice?