Jeffery Wood is on track to be the ‘least culpable person executed in the modern era of death penalty.’
Texas—the state that leads the nation (pdf) in number of executions—is on the brink of killing Jeffery Wood.
His execution is scheduled for Aug. 24, which is “just five days after his 43rd birthday, for a crime that everyone, including prosecutors, admits he did not commit,”Jordan Smith wrote at The Intercept.
He’s been on death row since 1998. Two years earlier, as the Austin Chronicle reported, he was arrested
for the murder of Kris Keeran, a gas station attendant in Kerrville. Wood didn’t fire the bullet that killed Keeran. In fact, he wasn’t even inside the building. He was in a pickup truck in the parking lot when his friend Daniel Reneau shot Keeran in the face during a botched robbery. Wood jumped out of the car and ran inside when he heard the gunshot. There, Reneau pointed his gun at Wood and told him to make off with the Texaco’s surveillance camera and VCR.
So why is Wood about to face a lethal injection of pentobarbital?
Hooman Hedayati, an attorney and a member of the Texas Moratorium Network Board of Directors, explained in an op-ed at the Austin American-Statesman last month:
Wood was convicted and sentenced to die under Texas’ arcane felony-murder law, more commonly known as the “the law of parties”—for his role as an accomplice to a killing, which he had no reason to anticipate. Under the law of parties, those who conspire to commit a felony, like a robbery, can be held responsible for a subsequent crime, like murder, if it “should have been anticipated.” The law does not require a finding that the person intended to kill. It only requires that the defendant, charged under the law of parties, was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life. In other words, neglecting to anticipate another actor’s commission of murder in the course of a felony is all that is required to make a Texas defendant death-eligible.
Human rights group Amnesty International issued an “urgent alert” Friday to help stop the execution, noting that Wood “has a history of emotional and intellectual impairments, and an IQ consistently assessed at about 80.”
An additional troubling aspect of the case, Amnesty writes, is that
A prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas is a jury finding of the defendant’s “future dangerousness.” At Jeffery Wood’s sentencing, the prosecution called Dr. James Grigson, a discredited psychiatrist dubbed “Dr. Death” who regularly testified at Texas capital sentencings as to his certainty that the defendant would commit future acts of violence, a form of testimony for which by 1998 he had already been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association. The prosecution nevertheless presented such testimony at Jeffery Wood’s trial, without informing the jury of his expulsion. Meanwhile, the defence lawyers made no arguments, put on no witnesses, and presented no mitigation evidence. They “sat mute” throughout, noted the federal judge in 2005.
The case prompted roughly 50 Evangelical leaders from across the county to write to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday, urging them to stop the execution. “Officials have a moral obligation to rectify this mistake and stop this execution while they still can,” they wrote, adding, “It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of.”
From the Washington Post‘s lengthy reporting Friday on the case: “If executed this month, Wood will be the ‘least culpable person executed in the modern era of death penalty,’ said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, a group that advocates against capital punishment.”