Another execution is scheduled under flawed law-of-parties provision
Make a note of this name: Jeffery Lee Wood.
And this date: Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008.
Thats Woods scheduled date of execution, 2 days after his 35th birthday.
Now, go back in time with me.
It was a year ago this month just outside the prison walls that house the
Texas death chamber when a small group of us staunch death-penalty
opponents stood in stunned amazement with the family of a condemned man.
We had just gotten news that Gov. Rick Perry had taken the advice of the
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and commuted the sentence of Kenneth
Foster from death to life in prison. The decree came just a few hours
before Fosters scheduled execution.
Our amazement turned to jubilation on the Huntsville prison grounds that
afternoon, not only because Foster's life had been spared but also because
the governor and board had hinted that there were problems with the law
under which the inmate had been convicted and sentenced.
Foster had been tried under the "law of parties" designed to treat
"conspirators" equally, meaning that all could be considered culpable for
the actions of the one who commits a 2nd crime while in the commission of
another. Texas is the only state that applies that law in capital cases.
In Foster's case, he had been riding around with 3 other men in San
Antonio one night when they stopped to talk to a woman. While Foster
waited in the car, one of his passengers, Mauriceo Brown, approached the
woman's male companion some distance away.
There was a shot and Brown rushed back to the car and told Foster to drive
away. It was then that he learned that Brown had shot the man, later
identified as 25-year-old Michael LaHood.
The evidence clearly showed that Foster, while near the scene of the
crime, did not and could not have known what his companion would do. Yet,
he stood trial with Brown on capital murder charges. Both were convicted
and sentenced to death. Brown was executed July 19, 2006.
The governor, in commuting Foster's sentence, expressed concern that the 2
defendants had been tried together and suggested that the Legislature
should address the law in its next session.
This newspaper editorialized against Foster's execution and called for the
Legislature to re-examine the law of parties.
Wood, convicted under the same law of parties, is set to be executed this
week, 5 months before the next legislative session begins.
His case is more complicated than Foster's and involves a series of issues
that demand his sentence be commuted to life.
Although he was not tried with his co-defendant, a man who's been executed
for the 1996 murder of a Kerrville convenience store operator, prosecutors
continued to link him to the killer. "Daniel Reneau, who coldly murdered
Kriss Keeran in the early morning hours of January 2, 1996, has already
been executed by the State of Texas for this senseless act," according to
a clemency petition submitted to the governor and the Board of Pardons and
Paroles. "Nevertheless, on August 21, 2008, the State seeks to execute
Jeffery Wood for the same crime, even though the State does not contend
that Mr. Wood shot Keeran. In fact, Mr. Wood was not even in the building
when Reneau shot and killed Keeran."
Wood was in on a scheme with Reneau to rob the store with the help of the
store's assistant manager, Bill Bunker, according to the petition. It was
to have been an inside job, as Bunker had told the 2 men where the video
recording devices were and how much money was expected to be in the safe.
When Reneau went into the store, Wood remained in a pickup and was later
shocked by the sound of a gunshot. Reneau had killed Keeran.
The clemency petition suggests that Wood's culpability for the crime
should lie somewhere between Reneau's and Bunker's.
Reneau committed the murder and has been executed for it, but "Bunker
despite being a co-conspirator without whose agreement and encouragement
the crime never would have occurred was never charged with any crime,"
the petition said.
Other issues include whether Wood was even mentally competent to stand
trial. One court said he wasn't, but he was later declared competent.
Although the trial court refused to let him represent himself, he, in
effect, would not allow his court-appointed attorneys to do their job.
"Bowing to Mr. Wood's emotional and irrational insistence, Mr. Wood's
appointed lawyers declined to cross-examine any witnesses or present any
evidence on Mr. Wood's behalf," the petition states. "Mr. Wood's trial
attorneys called Mr. Wood's actions a 'gesture of suicide and objected on
moral grounds to participating in the arrangement ordered by the trial
court effectively as legal vessels assisting Mr. Wood's suicidal ends."
Then, in the punishment phase of the trial, the state called Dr. James
Grigson (known widely as "Dr. Death") to the stand to testify that if Wood
were not given the death penalty he would continue to be a danger to
society. Grigson, who had already been discredited, got his nickname
because of the hundreds of times he testified for the state in capital
"Despite having a valid license, Grigson was a medical fraud, although Mr.
Wood's jury did not know it," the petition contends. "In 1995, 3 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. Because he was not
cross-examined, Mr. Wood's jury was not aware of this information. Nor did
the State elicit it, despite its duty to see that justice is done and to
disclose impeachment evidence."
At least 10 state legislators have written the Board of Pardons and
Paroles, urging clemency for Wood.
I know the governor gets tired of hearing from me on death-penalty cases,
but he must commute this sentence.
It is clear that Wood does not deserve to be executed, and no other person
should be put to death under a law that many people believe should never
have applied to capital cases.
The least we can do is wait until the Legislature deals with this law in
its next session.
(source: Column, Bob Ray Sanders; Fort Worth Star-Telegram)