Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jeff Wood Receives Stay of Execution

A federal judge has granted a request to delay the execution of Jeff Wood, in order to allow his attorneys to hire a mental health expert to pursue their arguments that he is incompetent to be executed.

Here's a press release from Texas Defender Service:



Austin -- 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. 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. The Court's Order Granting Stay of Execution is attached.

"We applaud the Federal District Court for upholding Jeff Wood's rudimentary due process right to have his competency evaluated," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service, who, along with attorney Scott Sullivan, are representing Mr. Wood.

The Federal District Court authorized an attorney and the assistance of mental health experts, pointing out that the Texas state courts had not complied with the basic due process that the United States Supreme Court required in another Texas case - that of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill death row inmate with a 20-year history of schizophrenia, who was permitted to represent himself at trial dressed in a purple cowboy costume.

In its 20-page order, the Court stated, "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."

Prosecutors have indicated they will not appeal today's decision. Yesterday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied the application for clemency ona vote of 7-0 despite the mental health evidence and fact that it isundisputed that Jeff Wood did not kill the victim in this case, but rather wasoutside the building in a car at the time of the murder. The actual killer, Daniel Reneau, was already executed by the State of Texas in 2002.

Wood was convicted and sentenced to death as a party for the death of Kriss Keeran in Kerr County, Texas. Mr. Wood was convicted under Texas' "law of parties" statute that allows for the conviction of participants in a crime even if they have do not know a murder will be committed or commit murder themselves.

Wood has never taken a human life by his own hands. Keeran's unfortunate death was the result of a reckless scheme devised to steal the money that had accumulated in a Kerrville convenience store over a holiday weekend. Reneau armed himself, entered the store, and shot the victim. Wood was involved in the robbery this case because of his longstanding mental illness that allowed him to be easily manipulated by the principal actor, Daniel Reneau. Wood's emotional and psychological impairments, including his intellectuall imitations, diminished Wood's capacity to anticipate what Daniel Reneau would do inside the convenience store.

At the punishment phase of the trial, influenced by his mental health issues, Woods directed his lawyers not to present any evidence in his defense. Mr. Wood's attorneys made no cross examination of any of the State's witnesses. They presented no evidence or witnesses on Mr. Wood's behalf. And they offered no reasons or arguments why the twelve people sitting on Mr. Wood's jury should extend mercy to him and spare his life.

Wood's mental illness was a critical element at trial and in 1997, Wood was initially found incompetent to stand trial. Mr. Wood suffers today from the same psychological and emotional impairments for which a jury found him incompetent to stand trial in 1997. He has never received psychiatric or mental health care for these impairments. The same deficiencies that prevented Mr. Wood from communicating with his trial lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding prevent Mr. Wood from having a rational understanding of his death sentence and impending execution.

A neuropsychologist who evaluated Wood's competence to stand trial said that Mr. Wood "ha[d] a delusional system, an inability to grasp the reality surrounding the issues specific to this case, his role in it, in the crime, as well as other things that present a direct threat to his own well-being, his own sense of self."

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