Jeff Wood Did Not Kill Anyone. He was convicted under the law of parties

Family members and supporters of Jeff Wood, who is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016, will rally in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion at 1010 Colorado Street at 4 PM on Saturday, July 23, to urge Governor Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Wood’s death sentence.

Jeff Wood was sentenced to death under the law of parties for a murder he did not commit. The actual murderer was Daniel Reneau, who was executed by Texas on June 13, 2002.

What:    Rally to Save Jeff Wood from Execution

Where: Texas Governor’s Mansion at 1010 Colorado Street in Austin, Texas

When:  4 PM on Saturday July 23, 2016

Speakers at the rally include Jeff Wood’s sister Terri Been and his nephew Nick Been. Groups organizing the rally include Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.

What is the Law of Parties?

 Section 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code outlines the following:

A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another if “acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense he solicits, encourages, directs, aids or attempts to aid the other persons to commit the offense” or “if, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy.”

The law does not require a finding that the person prosecuted under the law of parties intended to kill. The law of parties can be used to sentence people to death even though they did not actually kill or intend anyone to be killed. Kenneth Foster’s death sentence under the law of parties was commuted to life in prison on August 30, 2007 by Governor Rick Perry. The BPP also recommended clemency in another law of parties case in 2009, but Perry rejected that recommendation and allowed the execution of Robert Thompson to take place.

Executions under the law of parties are rare

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, only ten people have been executed in the U.S. under felony murder statutes, known in Texas as the law of parties. In addition to the listed ten, there may have been a few others not yet included in the DPIC list. Clearly, executions under the law of parties are extremely rare when considered as a percentage of the total of 1,437 U.S. executions. For that reason, executions under the law of parties should be ruled unconstitutional as “cruel and unusual” under the 8th Amendment.

Everyone – including law enforcement and prosecutors alike – agree that Jeff Wood did not kill anyone during the January 2, 1996 incident for which he was sentenced to death. The undisputed facts are that Kris Keeran was shot and killed by Daniel Reneau. During the episode, Jeff Wood did not and could not have known that Reneau would murder Keeran. In fact, Wood was not even inside the store at the time of the murder. Wood was outside sitting unarmed in a vehicle. “Wood’s actions before the murder, namely sitting in a car unarmed and unaware that another person was going to commit a robbery, does not constitute reckless indifference to human life”, wrote Hooman Hedayati in an article published in the Austin American-Statesman.

“We are asking the people of Texas to contact the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and urge them to grant clemency to Jeff Wood, because he did not kill anyone. The BPP should recommend that the Governor commute Wood’s death sentence to life in prison or a lesser term consistent with Wood’s level of participation in the crime”, said Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

In 2009, the Texas House of representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill to ban executions under the law off parties. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate after Gov. Perry threatened to veto it. Last year, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence voted again in favor of a bill to exclude the death penalty as punishment in law of parties cases. However, the session ended without an opportunity for a floor vote. The bill will be introduced again in 2017.

For background information on the Wood case, read the clemency petition submitted to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in 2008 when Wood received a court-ordered stay of execution. A new 2016 clemency petition will be submitted in early August.

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