death penalty news—-TEXAS

Aug. 21

TEXAS—-stay of impending execution

Federal judge delays execution of condemned inmate

A federal judge has granted a request to delay the execution of condemned
inmate Jeffery Wood.

Jeffery Wood had been set to be executed Thursday for taking part in a
fatal 1996 convenience store robbery in the Texas Hill Country.

But a federal judge on Thursday granted a request by Wood's attorneys to
delay his execution so they could hire a mental health expert to pursue
their arguments that he is incompetent to be executed.

Wood would have been the 9th condemned prisoner put to death this year and
the fifth this month in the nation's busiest capital punishment state.

(source: Associated Press)


US to execute mentally ill man

Texas is scheduled today to execute a mentally ill man for conspiracy to
murder in a case that death penalty opponents say illustrates why the
practice is deeply flawed.

Jeffery Lee Wood, 35, "has never taken a human life by his own hands," and
"was outside the building in a car at the time of the murder," his lawyers
said in a statement.

Wood's partner in crime, Daniel Reneau, was executed in 2002 for killing a
store manager during a robbery.

"At Reneau's trial, the prosecution had argued that Reneau was the person
chiefly responsible for the crime and that Wood's role was secondary," the
Death Penalty Information Centre said.

"Wood was involved in the robbery in this case because of his longstanding
mental illness that allowed him to be easily manipulated by the principal
actor, Daniel Reneau," his lawyers argued.

Texas is the top executioner in the United States, with 413 executions
over the last 30 years, out of a national total of 1,119 for that period.

It is also one of the few US states that permit capital punishment in a
case involving conspiracy to murder, not murder itself.

Seven people were executed for conspiracy after 1976, when the death
penalty was reauthorised in the United States, but Wood will be the 1st to
die since 1996.

"Executing someone who didn't kill violates the most basic principles of
justice," David Fathi, US program director at Human Rights Watch, said in
a statement.

In right-leaning Texas, support for the death penalty and the state's
tough "law-and-order" approach remains high.

Advocates argue the punishment is just, deters crime and provides comfort
to victims' families.

Ambiguity surrounding mental illness also makes Wood's case controversial.

Wood's lawyers asked the governor of Texas to delay Wood's execution by 1
month, after he had been in solitary confinement on death row for 10
years, 23 hours a day, to evaluate his mental health.

In 1986, the Supreme Court effectively banned executing anyone too
mentally ill to understand what was to happen to them and why. But it did
not establish criteria for evaluating mental competency.

"If a person is only mentally ill and not incompetent, the decisions are
less clear and are up to individual judgments by the governor or the
jury," Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information centre,
told AFP.

In March 2008, Richard Taylor, condemned to death for murdering a prison
guard 27 years earlier when he was gravely afflicted with schizophrenia,
had his death penalty commuted to life in prison in the southern state of

But Kelsey Patterson was executed in Texas in May 2004 despite having been
diagnosed with paranoia and schizophrenia prior to his criminal act.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently authorised the state penal system
to administer, by force if necessary, psychotropic medicine to 2 convicts
on death row, to render them mentally competent and subject to execution.

The case of Raymond Riles, on death row since April 2, 1976 – more than 32
years – is emblematic of the ambiguity surrounding mentally ill inmates.

"It is awkward and quite strange to see states force inmates to take
medication so they can be killed, but this is the hateful nature of our
capital punishment system," Rick Halperin of the Texas Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty told AFP.

"It has very little to do with logic, and certainly nothing to do with

His execution was delayed 3 times, and after 1986 the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice never set a new date for it. But he is still on death

(source: Agence France Presse)


Accomplice law led to execution set for today—-Opponents say 'law of
parties' is archaic and unjust

At least 3 Texas death row inmates have been executed under the law of
parties, which makes accomplices as liable as the actual killer in capital
murder cases.

Carlos Santana, 40, executed in 1993 for the death of 29-year-old
security guard Oliver Flores during a failed $1.1 million armored car
heist in Houston. His co-defendant, James Meanes, the triggerman, was
executed in 1998.

Joseph Starvaggi, 34, executed in 1987 for fatally shooting Montgomery
County probation officer John Denson, 43, during a Magnolia home burglary.
An accomplice, G.W. Green, 49, was executed in 1991; a third man, Glenn
Martin, got life in prison.

Doyle Skillern, 49, was executed in 1985 for the murder of Department of
Public Safety narcotics officer Patrick Allen Randel. Skillern claimed an
accomplice, Charles Victor Sanne, was the gunman. Sanne got a life

[source: Death Penalty Information Center and the Texas Department of
Criminal Justice Web site The 1996 robbery of Kerrville's Goldstar Texaco
was far more than a nickel-and-dime job.]


Inside the convenience store safe lay $11,000 in cash and checks. But when
David Reneau, a stocky, 20-year-old nurse's aide, pulled a pistol and
announced the stickup, everything went wrong.

As Reneau's partner, Jeffery Wood, waited in the getaway car, the bandit
fatally shot store clerk Kriss Keeran in the face.

6 years later, Reneau was executed for the murder. Today, unless courts or
Gov. Rick Perry intervene, Wood also will be put to death.

Wood's case was a rare death sentence under Texas' law of parties, which
holds accomplices in murders just as culpable as the person who pulled the
trigger or wielded the knife. The case has prompted protests by those who
contend that the law and the punishment are archaic.

"Put them together," said David Fathi, U.S. program director for Human
Rights Watch, "and you have a situation that the rest of the world views
with shock and incomprehension."

If Wood is executed, he would be at least the fourth murder accomplice as
opposed to actual killer put to death through Texas' law of parties in
recent years. The law has been part of the state penal code since at least

"It's a pretty traditional criminal law that accomplices and
co-conspirators are equally held culpable," said University of Houston law
professor Sandra Thompson, a criminal law specialist. "You don't have to
specifically agree to commit a killing. You agree to commit the target
crime. Then any other crimes that are foreseeable, you're responsible."

Role of accomplice

Supporters of the law, she said, suggest that the mere presence of an
accomplice can embolden a criminal to kill. Under this theory, a crime
might not have been committed without the presence of an accomplice to
support the act.

University of Texas law professor Jordan Steiker, however, argued that the
law's application to Wood "flies in the face of a broader effort to
reserve the death penalty for extreme cases."

Fathi said prosecutors in Reneau's case mocked defense attorneys when they
tried to deflect responsibility onto Wood.

"They argued clearly and unambiguously that Reneau was the bad actor," he
said. "Then, after getting the death sentence, at Wood's trial they
essentially conflated the two men. They argued that they were in this

Kerr County District Attorney Bruce Curry, whose office prosecuted the
case, did not return telephone calls.

The law of parties, derived from English common law, is on the books in 24
of 36 American death penalty states, but internationally, Fathi said, it
is increasingly rare. England abolished it 51 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in law of parties cases from Florida and
Arizona, has sent mixed signals.

In 1982, the court reversed the death sentence for Earl Enmund, the
getaway driver in a Florida robbery turned deadly. It noted that Enmund
did not kill, attempt to kill or intend to kill or to facilitate a murder.

5 years later, the court held two Arizona brothers culpable in a quadruple
homicide committed by their father and another man whom the brothers had
armed and helped escape from prison. The brothers, the justices held,
"could have anticipated the use of lethal force."

Neither the Texas Attorney General's Office nor the Harris County District
Attorney's Office could say how many capital law of parties cases
originated in Harris County, which leads the state in sending killers to
death row.

Among those, however, was the case of Carlos Santana and James Meanes, who
killed security guard Oliver Flores in an unsuccessful $1.1 million
Houston armored car robbery in 1981. Santana was executed in 1993; Meanes,
convicted as the triggerman, in 1998.

Montgomery County case

In a Montgomery County case, Joseph Starvaggi and G.W. Green were executed
and Glenn Martin was sentenced to life in prison, after they were
convicted of the 1975 shooting of Magnolia resident John Denson while
burglarizing his home. Starvaggi was convicted as the shooter.

Gaining greater public attention were the law of parties-related cases of
Joseph Nichols of Houston and Kenneth Foster of San Antonio.

Nichols was executed in 2007 for the 1980 murder of convenience store
clerk Claude Shaffer. Nichols' partner, Willie Williams, identified as the
triggerman, was executed in 1995.

At Nichols' first trial, prosecutors tried him under the law of parties.
He was convicted, but the jury split in assessing punishment, so Nichols
was retried.

In the second trial, prosecutors largely abandoned the law of parties
strategy. "They put on that he was the triggerman," said his attorney, J.
Clifford Gunter III. "That's what makes Nichols a little unique."

Foster was sentenced to die after being convicted under the law of parties
in a San Antonio robbery-murder. His attorneys argued that he had only
been the getaway driver, and had not anticipated the killing.

Perry commuted Foster's sentence to life, although he said he intervened
only because Foster and a co-defendant had been convicted in a single
trial. Foster's partner, Mauriceo Brown, was executed in 2006.

Against commutation

In Wood's case, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously has
voted to recommend the condemned man's sentence not be commuted. Perry,
however, can still act on his own.

Wood and Reneau were roommates and knew their victim. For two weeks they
planned the crime, even talking with Keeran and another store employee
about staging a fake robbery. That plan fell through, prompting Wood and
Reneau to undertake an actual stickup. They hauled off a safe and a cash

Wood initially was found incompetent to stand trial. After a period of
treatment for mental illness, he was found competent, tried and convicted.

During the punishment phase, he banned his attorneys from introducing
character witnesses on his behalf or cross-examining prosecution
witnesses. He has not challenged the law of parties in his federal

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Save Reginald Blanton, sentenced to death in Texas




Reginal Blanton, aged 27, an African American, originally from California
but domiciled since he was teen in Texas, has been in jail for the last 8
years accused of having killed the 13th of April 2000 when he was 18 his
close friend Carlos Garza.

He is presently an inmate on death row in Polunksy Prison, in Livingston,
Texas. For the last seven years he has been attempting to prove his
innocence, but most of all to show the level of inhumanity the inmates of
death row are subjected to and the level of approximation adopted in
trials for crimes that provide the death penalty, especially towards black
defendants like him.

EveryOne Group, in constant contact with Reginald's mother, Anna Terrell,
has decided to promote an international campaign in the attempt to save
Reginald Blanton's life.

"We are convinced the inquiry and trial that led to Reginald being
sentenced to death reveal an abuse of the law, errors of form and
procedural flaws" say EveryOne Group's leader Roberto Malini, Matteo
Pegoraro and Dario Picciau and the activist Elisabetta Vivaldi. "Reginald
is African American, he was a street kid and a member of a gang. He
belonged to a world that the US institutions, and Texas in particular,
fight with such rigor it often becomes prejudice. We suspect" continue the
activists "the verdict contains elements of racial discrimination and this
is confirmed by the fact that Reginald Blanton was not judged, according
to his constitutional rights, by a jury of his peers. The District
Attorney also arranged it so that the entire jury was made up of white
Americans. And it is for this reason that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
recognized this violation of his assurance of a fair trial".

Blanton part of his story is published on
had a childhood marked by poverty and marginalization: when he was 16, he
left home to join a street gang. He had problems with the law for drug
pushing and was diagnosed as suffering from attention deficit disorder; he
was placed in a 2 years "re-socialization program" organized by the Texas
Youth Commission, but when he was 18, while he was changing life, he was
accused of the murder of his friend, Carlos Garza. Carlos was shot twice
in his apartment and died a few hours later in hospital.

"Reginald Blanton was sentenced on evidence given by unreliable witnesses,
extorted under grave threats from his brother Robert members of a gang
him too and to the latter's girlfriend. Even if they withdraw their
charges in front of the Court," explain EveryOne Group's activists "the
climate of intolerance and prejudice has inexplicably brought to a guilt
verdict. This, in the bargain, in spite of the fact that there was no eye
witness able to identify the culprit; no murder weapon has never been
found; there were no Reginald's fingerprints or traces of his DNA into the
victim's apartment. Moreover," go on EveryOne's Group members there is a
damning evidence that can prove the defendant is not guilty. The evidence
consists of the footprint left by the killer as he kicked open the door to
Garzas apartment: the print of a size 12 shoe, whereas Reginald Blanton
wears a size 9. Blanton required several times that his shoes, worn the
day of the crime, would be shown to the jury during the trial, so that
they could notice this detail, but his request, as many others, has never
been approved".

After 9 requests for appeal, his lawyers Scott Sullivan and John Carroll
will finally be allowed to appear on Monday, August 25th, at 9,30 a.m.,
before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. On that occasion the
judges could decide to reopen the trial due to the fact that Reginald was
judged by a jury made up entirely of white Americans and possibly
sentenced on the basis of racial prejudice, but could also establish the
date of the imminent execution. "We are able to demonstrate an incredible
sequence of errors and violations of human rights in Reginald Blanton's
case," say the activists "and we are convinced the US judicial system (
which still makes use of the death penalty) too often makes legal errors
and procedural flaws. The law decides whether a human being should live or
die with a margin of error that is inevitably high and often linked to
social and personal bias, as well as to the defendant's previous record
and race. All this in defiance of article 11 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. We ask ourselves how many other innocent people will be
put to death by the executioner before the death penalty is abolished and
a respect of life is re-established".

EveryOne Group appeal to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navanethem Pillay, to the democratic USA presidency candidate, senator
Barack Obama, but also to the members of the Italian and Transnational
Radical Party, promoters of the universal moratorium for the death
penalty, and to all democratic nations: "Considering the impossibility, by
both the police and judicial system, to prove the guilt "without the
shadow of a doubt" of an accused person and considering the prejudice that
is inevitably present in some members of a jury, and considering the fact
that any human being found guilty has the right to be re-enabled, we
consider the death penalty a medieval heritage. It is important to support
the legal appeal in favor of Reginald Blanton and other prisoners ends
EveryOne Group "because we are convinced that many innocent people have
been put to death. Those in power often want to set a example in an
attempt to fight crime. But when institutional revenge puts an innocent
person to death, it makes a martyr of him, and in that moment democracy,
civilization and humanity are transformed into cruelty, injustice and

On are available all the information to
sustain Reginal Blanton's life campaign and ask the abolishment of the
death penalty, starting from United States of America. You can also sign a

For further information:

EveryOne Group

(source: EveryOne Group)