Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Items on Jeff Wood Case

Texas Killing Bed
Jeff Wood received a last minute stay before a scheduled execution. Here are more items published on this case: From NYTimes August 22, 2008--
Federal Judge Sharply Criticizes Texas System in Ordering Stay of Execution

Jeff Wood’s execution was stayed with only hours remaining by U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio. The judge chastised the Texas courts for their refusal last week to hire mental health experts to determine whether Wood (pictured) was insane or appoint a lawyer to represent him for a competency hearing. The state courts had ruled that Wood had to show he was insane before they would appoint a lawyer and a psychologist to help prove he was insane. Judge Garcia's opinion said such a system is absurd, “With all due respect, a system that requires an insane person to first make ‘a substantial showing’ of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system.”

In their appeal, Wood’s attorneys argued he is too delusional to understand why he is to die. Attorney Scott Sullivan said, “He will become delusional and deny the apparent reality right in front of him,” adding that Wood believes he is the victim of a Freemason conspiracy. In granting the stay, the court noted that Wood's bizarre statements at his trial and in prison, “at least arguably suggest the petitioner lacks a rational understanding of the casual link between his role in his criminal offense and the reason he has been sentenced to death.”

Wood’s mental heath was severe enough that one jury found him incompetent to stand trial, and it was only after spending time in a mental hospital that he was found competent by a second jury. Evidence of his delusions, emotional problems, and mental health difficulties were never brought before the jury that sentenced him to death because he instructed his lawyers not to present any evidence on his behalf. Judge Garcia said that such decision-making was, “bizarre, seemingly paranoid and clearly suicidal.” Wood’s case has received significant attention as he was sentenced to death under Texas' “law of parties.” His partner in a robbery shot a victim in a gas station while Wood was outside in a car. It is rare for anyone to be executed in the U.S. who was not directly involved in an actual murder.
(J. McKinley, “Federal judge, chastising the Texas courts, orders a stay of execution,” New York Times, August 22, 2008). See Mental Illness and Crimes Punishable by Death.
Execution of mentally ill man put on hold in Texas (Also August 22, 2008)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US court on Thursday granted a stay of execution to a mentally ill Texas man who was set to die for his role in a murder-robbery, even though he did not pull the trigger.

"Today, the Federal District Court granted a stay of execution in the case of Jeff Wood to allow the court to consider compelling evidence that Jeff Wood is too mentally ill to be executed," said a statement by the defense lawyers.

The court "held that the Texas state courts have not carefully reviewed the question of Wood's competence and that a stay of execution is necessary to ensure that Wood's mental health issues are fully presented and considered by the courts."

Wood, 35, was convicted and sentenced to die for his role in the robbery and killing of a store manager, Kris Keeran, even though Wood was outside the building at the time of the killing.

According to Texas' "law of parties" statute, participants in a crime can be convicted even if they have no role in or advance knowledge that a killing is to take place.

Wood's partner in crime, Daniel Reneau, was executed in 2002 for the murder.

"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 Center said.

The federal court intervened after the Texas Board of Pardons denied Wood's application for clemency on Wednesday. Prosecutors said they would not appeal.

In 1997, Wood was initially found incompetent to stand trial after a neuropsychologist said he had "a delusional system, an inability to grasp the reality surrounding the issues specific to this case, his role in it, in the crime," defense lawyers said in their statement.

However, Wood was later tried and convicted.

Wood's lawyers asked the governor of Texas to delay Wood's execution by one 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 center, told AFP.

"Mr. Wood suffers today from the same psychological and emotional impairments for which a jury found him incompetent to stand trial in 1997," his lawyers said.

"He has never received psychiatric or mental health care for these impairments," attorneys said, highlighting that his involvement in the robber was "because of his longstanding mental illness that allowed him to be easily manipulated by the principal actor, Daniel Reneau."

Texas is the top executioner in the United States, having conducted 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 re-authorized in the United States, but Wood will be the first to die since 1996.

In right-leaning Texas, support for the death penalty and the state's tough "law-and-order" approach remains high, with advocates arguing the punishment is just, deters crime and provides comfort to victims' families.

NOTE: Find plenty more items published on Jeff Wood's case on "Prevention not Punishment" and Rick Halperin's Updates (Click right on these sites--see column to the right on this blogspot)

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