death penalty news—-TEXAS

Aug. 20

TEXAS—-impending execution

Lawyers try to block execution set for Thursday

Lawyers for condemned prisoner Jeffery Wood say his mental problems led
him to get involved in a robbery scheme that left a Texas Hill Country
store clerk murdered in a fatal shooting carried out by a partner while
Wood sat outside in a car.

Attorneys for Wood were in the federal courts seeking permission to hire
mental health experts to pursue their arguments that he was incompetent to
be executed Thursday for the January 1996 slaying of Kriss Keeran, 31, at
a Kerrville Texaco gas station convenience store.

Texas courts have refused the appeals.

Wood would be the 9th condemned prisoner put to death this year and the
5th this month in the nation's busiest capital punishment state. At least
a dozen other Texas inmates have execution dates in the coming months.

Daniel Reneau, the gunman in Keeran's slaying and Wood's roommate, was
executed in 2002. Wood, whose 35th birthday was Tuesday, was convicted
under the Texas law of parties, which makes accomplices as liable as the
actual killer in capital murder cases.

Wood's mental illness "was a critical element throughout his trial and
sentencing," Wood's lawyers said.

Attorney Scott Sullivan said in a motion rejected Tuesday by the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals that he met with Wood a month ago at death row
and Wood told him he believed the trial judge in his case was corrupt but
would accept a $100,000 bribe and then deport him to Norway where he could
live with his wife.

Sullivan said Wood also believed, among other things, that the government
will pay him $50,000 a year once he's released and that he's willing to
give that money to the judge.

"Wood's delusional beliefs are true to him and always presented in
grandiose fashion," Sullivan said.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of prisoners
determined to be mentally retarded, the same blanket prohibition has not
been extended to those with mental illness.

Wood, who declined to speak with reporters as his execution date neared,
initially was found by a jury to be mentally incompetent to stand trial.
After a brief stint at a state hospital, a 2nd jury found him competent.

At his capital murder trial, he tried to fire his lawyers before the
penalty phase. The trial judge denied the request but Wood's lawyers
followed their client's wishes, called no witnesses and declined to
cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

Wood's appeals lawyers urged Gov. Rick Perry to use his authority to grant
a 1-time 30-day reprieve for Wood so a mental health expert could be
appointed to examine him.

"Given his long-standing history of mental illness, Gov. Perry must not
allow Mr. Wood's execution to go forward without allowing the court to
rule on this rudimentary due process right," said Andrea Keilin, executive
director of the Texas Defender Service, a legal group that represents
death row inmates.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles already has refused, on a 7-0 vote,
to recommend the governor grant clemency to Wood, whose lawyers compared
his case to another convicted Texas killer, Kenneth Foster. A year ago,
Foster won a commutation from the parole board, Perry agreed and Foster
now is serving a life sentence.

Foster also was condemned under the law of parties, although Perry's
explanation for commuting Foster was that Foster and his co-defendant were
tried together on capital murder charges for a slaying in San Antonio.

In Wood's case, he and Reneau were tried separately.

At least a half dozen other Texas inmates have been executed under the law
of parties.

Reneau and Wood knew Keeran, 31. Wood's lawyers said his mental illness
allowed him to be easily manipulated by Reneau, who they called "the
principal actor" in the shooting.

Lucy Wilke, the Kerr County assistant district attorney who prosecuted
Wood, described him after his 1998 trial as "not a dummy" and called the
slaying "cold-blooded, premeditated."

Evidence showed Reneau entered the store before dawn on Jan. 2, 1996, and
fatally shot Keeran once in the face with a .22-caliber pistol. Then
joined by Wood, they robbed the store of more than $11,000 in cash and
checks. Both were arrested within 24 hours.

According to court records, Wood was waiting outside the store and came in
after Keeran was shot, then both fled with the store safe, a cash box and
a video recorder containing a security tape showing the robbery and
slaying. Evidence showed the pair had planned the robbery for a couple of
weeks and unsuccessfully tried recruiting Keeran and another employee to
stage a phony robbery.

(source: Associated Press)


Court: Bible in jury room was wrong, death sentence stands

East Texas jurors wrongly used a Bible during deliberations in a capital
murder case, but there isn't enough evidence to show they were prejudiced
when they decided to send the perpetrator to death row, a federal appeals
court said.

The ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes in the case of
Khristian Oliver, who was condemned by a Nacogdoches County jury in 1999,
a year after he and three companions were involved in a break-in in which
Joe Collins, 64, was fatally shot and bludgeoned.

Oliver's 3 accomplices received prison terms ranging from five to 99
years. He got the death penalty. In his appeals, his lawyers contended
that jurors improperly consulted Bible verses that called for death as
punishment for murder.

In its ruling posted Aug. 14, the New Orleans-based appeals court said
that using the Bible "amounts to a type of private communication, contact
or tampering that is outside the evidence and law."

But the court said it didn't see enough evidence to overturn decisions
from the trial court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that upheld
the jury verdict.

At a state district court hearing after the trial, jurors gave varying
accounts about the use of Bibles in deliberations. One juror said the
Bibles were carried so they could be taken to Bible study after the day's
court proceedings. Another said any reading from Scripture came after the
jury had reached a verdict. A third said Bible reading was intended to
make people feel better about their decision.

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

Oliver does not have an execution date.

(source: USA Today)