Sometimes I really have to wonder what is going on in the state of Texas.
“'I had a nightmare about my dad last night,” Paige Rowan told her aunt in the text.
Rowan described a dream in which she watched helplessly as the execution needle pierced her father’s skin.
She woke up screaming, panicking and feeling hopeless, she told Been.
Then, she said, she dropped to her knees and prayed.
“Please don’t allow this to happen,” Rowan wrote. “Don’t take my father away.”
Been struggled to finish reading the text message, her voice breaking as she paused several times to regain her composure during an interview with The Washington Post.
The message was sent Sunday, Been said, less than three weeks ahead of the date her niece has come to dread: Aug. 24, when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to inject Jeffrey Lee Wood with a lethal dose of pentobarbital to stop his heart.
Rowan’s nightmares have been happening more often as her father’s execution date looms closer.
It is so close now that she can feel it, Rowan told her aunt.
The scheduled execution is Wood’s punishment for the 1996 death of a man he did not kill — and, by some accounts, did not know was going to be killed.
Legal experts say his case is rare, even in Texas, the execution capital of America — and a state that allows capital punishment for people who did not kill anyone or did not intend to kill.
Wood was convicted and sentenced to death under what’s called the law of parties, which has been in effect in Texas since the 1970s. It states that a person who “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit an offense” is also criminally liable for that offense.
Under the law, prosecutors are not required to prove that a defendant had any part in committing a crime, or even intended to commit it. Jurors only need to find that there was a plan to commit a crime and that the defendant should have anticipated that the crime would occur.
In Wood’s case, he was sitting in a pickup outside a Texaco convenience store in Kerrville, Tex., in January 1996, when Daniel Reneau went inside and shot and killed the store clerk with a .22-caliber handgun.
Wood’s supporters say he was under the impression that Reneau, a drifter he had met months earlier, was only going to buy food and drinks.
But they also agree that Wood is not completely innocent.
Court records say he was involved in a scheme with Reneau and the store’s assistant manager to steal a safe that they believed contained thousands of dollars. While the others had backed out, Reneau took it upon himself to steal the safe, court records say.
Based on testimony from Wood’s then-girlfriend, he asked Reneau to not bring his gun before the two drove to the convenience store that day. Reneau did anyway, without Wood’s knowledge.
Wood’s attorney, Jared Tyler, said his client could not have anticipated the death of the clerk, Kris Keeran, and was unfairly held responsible for Reneau’s actions and decisions.
Both men were convicted of capital murder. Reneau was put to death in 2002.
Wood has been on death row since 1998, when his daughter, Paige Rowan, was a toddler.
If executed this month, Wood will be the “least culpable person executed in the modern era of death penalty,” said Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, a group that advocates against capital punishment.
Tyler has filed a writ of habeas corpus — used to review the legality of someone’s imprisonment — asking the state’s highest court for a new sentencing hearing for Wood, saying punishment should be proportional to culpability.
Wood’s death sentence, Tyler said, was based on “false and misleading” testimony from a psychiatrist who did not personally examine his client.
Bruce Curry, the Kerr County district attorney whose office prosecuted Wood’s case, said he could not comment because of the pending court decision. A spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is handling the case, also declined to comment.
Tyler is ultimately asking the court to declare the state’s death penalty unconstitutional “because of its arbitrariness and inability to ensure that only the worst of the worst receive death sentence,” according to court records.
That raises a question for Terri Been: How is her brother, a man without a violent criminal history, the worst of the worst?
A child in a man’s body
At the age of 12, Wood was described as a “highly impulsive” and “very troubled” youngster who often had negative opinions of himself.
When he was 15, he frequently asked how he was doing at school, often assuming he’d flunked, according to the writ of habeas corpus.
By the time he reached high school, he was spelling at a fourth-grade level and reading at a fifth-grade level. He has borderline mental disability with an IQ of 80.
His mother described him as an “eight-year-old in a man’s body.”
These “debilitating emotional and intellectual impairments” made Wood vulnerable to Reneau’s manipulation and rendered him unable to comprehend what Reneau was capable of doing, court records say. Because of those impairments, his attorney argued, Wood should have been declared incompetent to stand trial.
And he was — at least initially.
Wood was committed to a mental health hospital after he was found incompetent. A neuropsychologist had testified that Wood was delusional, unable to grasp the issues about his case and the reality facing him.
But Wood was released after 15 days in the hospital. Court records say the hospital tested his factual understanding of legal proceedings, but not his ability to be rational." [Read more]
Do you think the action being taken by the state of Texas serves our best interest as a society?
I don't. Their "law of the parties" seems more like a law created by idiots to me.
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