Crime

Texas Set To Execute Man For A Crime He Didn't Commit

| by Nik Bonopartis
Supporters rally to draw attention to the plight of Jeff Wood, who is scheduled for execution.Supporters rally to draw attention to the plight of Jeff Wood, who is scheduled for execution.

A mentally-stunted Texas man is slated for execution in the Lone Star state, even though everyone -- from his defense team to the prosecuting attorneys -- agrees he didn't commit a capital crime.

Jeffrey Wood, 43, has been behind bars for more than 20 years after being convicted of aiding a friend in the murder of Kris Keeran, a gas station clerk. His case and death sentence hinged on a controversial Texas statute called the "law of parties," which holds a person responsible for the crimes of another if that person aided the primary suspect in any way, Sky News reports.

As of Aug. 19, Wood has one week to live, unless Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, commutes his sentence.

In Wood's case, he told investigators he was driving a truck and stopped at a gas station in Kerrville, Texas, on January 2, 1996. His friend, Daniel Reneau, went inside the gas station and shot Keeran, CNN reports.

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When Wood, who reportedly has the IQ of a child, went inside to see what was taking Reneau so long, he saw Keeran's body and told police Reneau forced him at gunpoint to remove a cassette tape from the store's security camera system. Then Reneau took the store's safe and the two men fled.

Texas law doesn't distinguish between the convict who pulled the trigger and the accomplice, Texas criminal defense attorney Mark Bennett told CNN. During Wood's trial, the jury heard that Wood did not know Reneau was carrying a gun, and did not realize Reneau had taken a life until he walked into the gas station.

"Either you take some role in the crime or you don't," Bennett said, "and so, there is no way for Wood to be an accessory to murder."

Reneau confessed to the murder in 1997 and was executed in 2002, according to an opinion column by Texas state Rep. David Simpson for the Dallas Morning News.

Wood's attorney, Jared Tyler, said he believes there's still time to save his client. The case has received international media coverage because of the thin and circumstantial evidence tying Wood to the crime, in addition to his mental deficiencies.

"I am not aware of a case where a person has been executed with so minimal culpability and with such little participation in the event," Tyler said in an interview, according to Reuters.

Simpson says he supports the death penalty, and even believes the law of parties "has a place" in Texas law for some egregious cases. But in his Dallas Morning News piece, he argues that Abbott should commute Wood's sentence because there are too many doubts about the case to go forward with the execution.

"In the case of Wood, I have seen enough questions to warrant advocating that his life be spared," Simpson wrote on Aug. 19. "Ultimately, God will judge our actions, and as human beings we make mistakes and our justice system is not perfect."

Paige Wood, the death row inmate's daughter, wrote an impassioned plea to save her father's life on a website set up by the family to advocate for Wood.

"I have been deprived because of somebody else's crime," Paige wrote on Save Jeff Wood. "Should I continue to be punished? Please do not kill him... He did not kill anybody. He is a kind, gentle man and I need him! If you kill him... you are killing me!"

Sources: CNN, Sky News, Save Jeff Wood, Dallas Morning News, Reuters / Photo credit: Save Jeff Wood

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