Thursday, August 21, 2008

More on TX Inmate Jeff Wood

The following AP story contains more information about Jeff Wood's mental impairments ("Lawyers try to block execution set for Thursday," August 20, 2008). His attorneys have argued that Wood's delusions render him incompetent to be executed.

"Lawyers for condemned prisoner Jeffery Wood say his mental problems led him to get involved in a robbery scheme that left a Texas Hill Country store clerk murdered in a fatal shooting carried out by a partner while Wood sat outside in a car.

Attorneys for Wood were in the federal courts seeking permission to hire mental health experts to pursue their arguments that he was incompetent to be executed Thursday for the January 1996 slaying of Kriss Keeran, 31, at a Kerrville Texaco gas station convenience store.

Texas courts have refused the appeals.

Wood would be the 9th condemned prisoner put to death this year and the 5th this month in the nation's busiest capital punishment state. At least a dozen other Texas inmates have execution dates in the coming months.

Daniel Reneau, the gunman in Keeran's slaying and Wood's roommate, was executed in 2002. Wood, whose 35th birthday was Tuesday, was convicted under the Texas law of parties, which makes accomplices as liable as the actual killer in capital murder cases.

Wood's mental illness 'was a critical element throughout his trial and sentencing,' Wood's lawyers said.

Attorney Scott Sullivan said in a motion rejected Tuesday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that he met with Wood a month ago at death row and Wood told him he believed the trial judge in his case was corrupt but would accept a $100,000 bribe and then deport him to Norway where he couldlive with his wife.

Sullivan said Wood also believed, among other things, that the government will pay him $50,000 a year once he's released and that he's willing to give that money to the judge.

'Wood's delusional beliefs are true to him and always presented in grandiose fashion,' Sullivan said.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has barred the execution of prisoners determined to be mentally retarded, the same blanket prohibition has not been extended to those with mental illness.

Wood, who declined to speak with reporters as his execution date neared, initially was found by a jury to be mentally incompetent to stand trial. After a brief stint at a state hospital, a 2nd jury found him competent.

At his capital murder trial, he tried to fire his lawyers before the penalty phase. The trial judge denied the request but Wood's lawyers followed their client's wishes, called no witnesses and declined to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

Wood's appeals lawyers urged Gov. Rick Perry to use his authority to grant a 1-time 30-day reprieve for Wood so a mental health expert could be appointed to examine him.

"Given his long-standing history of mental illness, Gov. Perry must not allow Mr. Wood's execution to go forward without allowing the court to rule on this rudimentary due process right," said Andrea Keilin, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, a legal group that represents death row inmates.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles already has refused, on a 7-0 vote, to recommend the governor grant clemency to Wood, whose lawyers compared his case to another convicted Texas killer, Kenneth Foster. A year ago, Foster won a commutation from the parole board, Perry agreed and Foster now is serving a life sentence.

Foster also was condemned under the law of parties, although Perry's explanation for commuting Foster was that Foster and his co-defendant were tried together on capital murder charges for a slaying in San Antonio.

In Wood's case, he and Reneau were tried separately.

At least a half dozen other Texas inmates have been executed under the law of parties.

Reneau and Wood knew Keeran, 31. Wood's lawyers said his mental illness allowed him to be easily manipulated by Reneau, who they called "the principal actor" in the shooting.

Lucy Wilke, the Kerr County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wood, described him after his 1998 trial as "not a dummy" and called the slaying "cold-blooded, premeditated."

Evidence showed Reneau entered the store before dawn on Jan. 2, 1996, and fatally shot Keeran once in the face with a .22-caliber pistol. Then joined by Wood, they robbed the store of more than $11,000 in cash and checks. Both were arrested within 24 hours.

According to court records, Wood was waiting outside the store and came in after Keeran was shot, then both fled with the store safe, a cash box and a video recorder containing a security tape showing the robbery and slaying. Evidence showed the pair had planned the robbery for a couple of weeks and unsuccessfully tried recruiting Keeran and another employee to stage a phony robbery."

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