Upcoming Executions
Click for a list of upcoming scheduled executions in Texas.
Innocence
The death penalty puts innocent people at risk of execution.
Todd Willingham
Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed under Governor Rick Perry on February 17, 2004.
FINAL-tdp16-CRUZ-LogoThe Texas Democratic Party Platform approved at the State Convention Saturday June 18 , 2016 supports abolishing the death penalty. It also supports establishing a moratorium on executions to study the death penalty. Support for a moratorium is crucial to abolishing the death penalty, because every state that has abolished the death penalty in the modern era has first had either an official or de-facto moratorium before abolishing the death penalty.
“Democrats Against the Death Penalty”, started by Scott Cobb in 2004, held a caucus at the State Convention. Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr spoke about his bill he filed last session to abolish the death penalty and urged everyone to get involved in the upcoming session to ensure his bill gets a committee hearing.
Steven Been spoke about his brother-in-law Jeff Wood, who has a scheduled execution date of August 24, 2016. Wood was convicted under the Law of Parties and sentenced to death even though he did not kill anyone. The room was packed with more than 150 people. Steven had many in the audience wiping their eyes with his emotional and powerfully reasoned appeal to save the life of Jeff Wood. After he laid out his case, in a brilliant move of a natural public speaker he asked everyone in the audience to stand up if they believed Jeff should have his death sentence commuted. Everyone in the room got to their feet. Well done, Steven!
The section on the death penalty states:
 
Despite 13 death row exonerations in Texas in the last 11 years, the death chamber and its machinery are still fully operational in Texas. Death penalty exonerations have already revealed deep flaws in our State’s criminal justice system. Evidence, including scientific evidence, extensive studies by Innocence Project, major newspapers, and university research, strongly
suggests that Texas has already executed innocent defendants including Carlos DeLuna, Ruben Cantu, and Cameron Todd Willingham. We must take every step to ensure there is never another innocent person executed. Texas Democrats support and urge:
● the passage of legislation that would abolish the death penalty and replace it with the
punishment of life in prison without parole; and
● the Governor, Texas Legislature, and Texas Judiciary and Texas Prosecutors to impose a moratorium on capital punishment while an unbiased and objective study of the entire process, from arrest, conviction/sentencing, appeals at all state levels, and the execution process itself is shown to be reliable and without such grievous failures as have been evident in the recent past.

terribeenJeff Wood is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016 under the law of parties even though he did not kill anyone. We need to persuade the Texas governor and members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Jeff’s death sentence. I have known Jeff’s family for many years. His sister Terri Been is leading the effort to #savejeffwood. She has testified to the Texas Legislature to ban executions under the Law of Parties and spoken out many times to save her brother from an unjust execution.

We created a petition to David G. Gutiérrez, Chair, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott, which says:

“We are petitioning to save Jeff Wood from unjustly being put to death by the state of Texas on August 24, 2016 for a murder he did not commit. Jeff was charged under the controversial Law of Parties. He was not the shooter in this crime, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. This unjust law states that even though a co-defendant may not have killed anyone, he can still face the death penalty, because of the actions of another person.

The actual shooter in this case, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the state of Texas.”

Four things to do:

1) Will you sign our petition? Click here to add your name.

 2) You can also donate to the clemency campaign. We have about two months to move the public, the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and we need about $1,000 for the clemency campaign.

3) Attend the rally July 23 at the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin.

4) Write a clemency letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Governor Greg Abbott. Send the letters separately to each of their addresses.

David Gutiérrez, Presiding Officer Board of Pardons and Paroles, Executive Clemency Section 8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757

Governor Gregg Abbott, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, Texas 78711-2428

On July 23, we will hold a rally at the Texas Governor’s Mansion.

In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted under the law of parties. The bill died in the Senate. It will be introduced again in the next legislative session in January 2017.

Jeff’s case is similar to Kenneth Foster’s, whose death sentence was commuted in 2007 by Governor Rick Perry after many people wrote clemency letters and more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging Perry to commute the death sentence, since Foster had not killed anyone. He was sentenced under the law of parties.

There have been only ten executions in the U.S. of people convicted under law of parties statutes. Five of those people were executed in Texas.

Terri Been wrote on Facebook:

I humbly ask you to help my family by taking a few minutes of your time to read a few facts regarding Jeff’s case and to sign his petition that we will be sending the governor! While you are on Jeff’s Web Page, I also ask that you take an extra minute or two to look at the other information we have in the how you can help section. For those of you who are familiar with Kenneth Foster’s case (which is very similar to Jeff’s case) it took their family over 17,000 messages to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to get his sentence commuted to Life. This was accomplished by sending petitions, faxes, letters, and by making phone calls. I am eternally grateful for every single signature, but I need more. I need calls, letters and faxes to go along with the petition signatures.

I humbly ask that you help my family. Jeff is my baby brother and he did not kill anybody! Please ask yourselves what you would do if you were in my situation. What lengths would you go to if this was your family member?

Short case summary: At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Wood waited outside, Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. When hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, and he looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered, at gun point by Reneau, to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway-car.

Sign the petition, please.

Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court applied the proportionality principle to conclude that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life.

If it goes to the Court again in the Wood case, they should be asked to find that enough change has occurred in public opinion since 1987 that there is now a national consensus that the death penalty should be banned in law of parties cases.

Kerry Cook, third from right. Photo by Michael Hall

Kerry Cook, third from right. Photo by Michael Hall

Texas Monthly’s Michael Hall reports:

For almost 39 years, prosecutors in the Smith County District Attorney’s office have done their best to either send Kerry Max Cook to death row, keep him there, or—after he was freed on bond in 1997—prevent him from ever being able to walk the streets with absolute impunity. Today, these efforts stopped. This morning, in the 114th District Court of Smith County, district attorney Matt Bingham agreed to not contest Cook’s writ of habeas corpus—and to join with Cook’s attorneys in recommending that his murder conviction be overturned. Cook, who has sworn his innocence since he was arrested in August 1977 for the murder of Linda Jo Edwards, has finally been legally exonerated.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said Monday the agency has received court documents setting 42-year-old Jeffrey Wood for lethal injection Aug. 24. Wood was convicted under the Texas law of parties, which makes the participant in a capital murder equally culpable of the crime. Evidence showed his roommate, Daniel Reneau, fatally shot 31-year-old Kerrville store clerk Kriss Keeran.

Reneau was executed in 2002.

Rep. Harold Dutton’s bill to ban the death penalty in law of parties cases (HB 341) was approved by the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence in the 2015 session. The committee recommended that it “be reported favorably to the full house with the recommendation that it do pass”. The vote was 4-2. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted yes.

Perez with daughter Jade prior to his incarceration PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PEREZ FAMILY

Perez with daughter Jade prior to his incarceration
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PEREZ FAMILY

The Austin Chronicle has a long, front page article on the innocence case of Louis Perez, currently on Texas death row.

Reasonable DoubtLouis Perez has spent nearly two decades on death row. Does he deserve to be there?
BY CHASE HOFFBERGER, FRI., APRIL 29, 2016:

Revisiting the DNA, Once More
The latest attorney to take on Perez’s case is Marcy Greer. The Austin civil appellate attorney received a request from the District Court in the summer of 2012, asking that she look into allegations that Khan had abandoned Perez. She took over in early August and by Aug. 29 had filed a motion urging Yeakel to vacate his March judgment and issue a new ruling – one that could be appealed by an attorney who hadn’t abandoned their client. Yeakel complied, and on Dec. 12 issued a new judgment, which Greer and her team contested within the month.

The filings opened the case again, and gave Greer and her team time to sort through the seven boxes of case files that have accumulated since the murders. She’s fought off perilous deadlines. In Nov. 2012, Hon. Karen Sage, the presiding judge over the 299th District Court (where Perez was tried and convicted) hadn’t yet learned of Greer’s Aug. 2012 motion to reopen the case, and signed a death warrant for his execution, effective March 21, 2013. (The order was quickly withdrawn.) The case has since failed at both the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court.

Shortly after appealing Yeakel’s ruling and delaying the impending death date, Greer filed four unopposed motions in Sage’s district court that would change the course of Perez’s effort. The motions, filed July 19, 2013, called for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to provide Perez with a series of previously unreleased documents from his case, including the transcripts from his grand jury trial and any bench notes, data, or electropherograms taken or previously held by the District Attorney.

The filings also included a motion requesting that the Tarrant County Medical Examiner run additional post-conviction DNA testing on six items – the two pairs of pantyhose used to strangle and bind Mitchell, fingernail scrapings from both of Mitchell’s hands, the comal’s handle, and the full length of the telephone cord – and that the Tarrant County crime lab test three other items that have yet to be analyzed by any lab – Mitchell’s shirt, the Nike shoe sole, and a broken, bloody plant stand, which investigators concluded shattered during Barz’s struggle before her death. (Since 2001, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure has granted defendants the right to submit motions for additional DNA testing to their convicting courts so long as any revelation of DNA evidence could cast doubt on a convict’s guilt. It also grants defendants the right to obtain grand jury transcripts from their case if it’s believed the prosecution committed a Brady violation – that is, hid evidence favorable to the defense.)

“Several of these items of physical evidence were analyzed multiple times, but only the final report and selected excerpts of the underlying testing data were available to the defense team for analysis,” wrote Greer, citing Dr. Benjamin’s letter from Oct. 2001. “Having access to all of the underlying data – not just the reports prepared for the trial and the habeas hearing – will allow a thorough and complete review of the evidence that was used to convict Perez and may also potentially inform the results of the new testing that Perez is seeking in order to draw out a profile of the real killer from the various incomplete and mixed DNA contributions on these items.”

Greer listed the significant number of fingerprints lifted “from highly sensitive locations” around the house, including the “blood-covered bathrooms and bedrooms where two of the bodies were found” that were never matched to Perez or any of the victims. She noted “other leads that may have identified the real killer in this case, including information about witness interviews and background investigations,” as well as information about any attempts the prosecution made to verify Perez’s whereabouts during the murders.

Buddy Meyer, who assisted Dawson-Brown at trial, denies Greer’s accusations that “Perez became the focal point of the case early and to the exclusion of evidence suggesting his innocence or another possible perpetrator.” However, he told the Chron­icle that the D.A.’s Office has no reason to oppose new testing. “You’re talking about a death penalty case here,” he said. “Why would we not agree to post-conviction testing? We’re talking about a man’s life.”

more

In October, Perez received a letter from District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg informing him that his case “may be impacted by recent scientific concerns involving the historical interpretation of DNA results.” Lehmberg attached to her letter a notice from Texas Forensic Science Commission presiding officer Vincent Di Maio, which was sent to state and local law enforcement agencies on Aug. 21, 2015. Di Maio said there are “concerns [involving] the interpretation of DNA results where multiple contributors may be present.” Included in his letter is an explanation of the FBI’s May 2015 announcement that it had found “minor discrepancies” in its population database. (In May 2015, The Washington Post reported that 3% of DNA profiles the FBI had examined since 1999 were potentially affected.)

On Jan. 28, the developments prompted Sage to issue a stay on Perez’s execution. She sent a letter to Sian Schilhab, general counsel for Texas’ Court of Crim­inal Appeals, indicating that the state has discovered “some potential Brady material in this case and has disclosed that evidence to the defense.”

Greer stresses that Sage hasn’t found anything definitive yet, but that the three parties are working together “to try to identify where the holes are” in Perez’s case. “I don’t have all the documents necessary to complete the assessment,” she said. “But there is a lot that does not add up about [Perez’s] conviction: the evidence in the case, the way the crime scene was processed, and the Medical Examiner’s reports.”

Perez says that he’s “optimistic” about any potential revelations but refuses to get his hopes up. “I don’t allow myself to get excited,” he says. “I could.

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