Sunday, August 31, 2008
August 8th, 2008
I'm like a piece of steel in the fire. However, the longer I stay in the fire the more I will purify.
This is the image I must constantly keep in my mind. This is the image that allows me to endure everything I'm going through.
Fire is an intricate element. It's an element that depending on the material, will burn/destroy or refine/purify. For the latter such an element is steel, which is why I attach myself to its likeness. While I do not shallowly relate myself to something that is "cold" and "lifeless" I cannot deny, as Ho Chi Minh said: "Calamity has hardened me and turned my mind into steel."
The operative word is MIND which highlights the fact it's not the heart or soul (which would be the centers from which a person's love, peace and hope stem from). The mind is a vehicle- much like a car- that must be reinforced to withstand harsh damages and impacts; while the heart and soul would act like the gasoline and oil. Without those 2 substances the car will be immobile and useless.
This is why it's important- in a struggle like this- that the mind be made into steel. To allow my mind to become any weaker than this material would result in a crumbling effect- that which the system relishes in seeing. This system is built on Conquer not cultivation. Just look at its track record: World War 1, World War 2, Gulf War, and from Vietnam to Iraq. A conquered mind is a conquered person, therefore I MUST remain…that steel.
What sparked this writing was my reflection on my quickly approaching 1-year anniversary of leaving death row. I remain in constant analysis of myself and my surroundings, because a moving mind will not be an idle mind; and idleness leads first to boredom, then to mischief and eventually to evil. I continue to ask where I am with my Self (12 building still insight [see my last journal of 2/17/08]) and what I have to do to get where I want/need to be.
For those that have kept up they know not much has changed for me in my struggle within these walls. I've traded one demon for another. While the greater challenge (defeating the executioner) has been lifted, the pain and adversity has not. Some things can be worse than death.
With me it was never about dying. An excruciating execution or not- that wasn't what shook me. It was the INJUSTICE of it all- personally and politically. To quote an intense writer on his (Jack Henry Abbott) time in prison:
"It has been my experience that injustice is perhaps the only (if not merely the greatest) cause of insanity behind bars."
This rang so true to me that it made me grit my teeth. You see- I have not accepted my circumstances nor my surroundings (i.e.- as "destiny"), but I deal with them and I adjust to them. And during this process I have come to deal with the most vilest of things and kept my sanity. I have been forced to wrestle with rules (often times arbitrary ones) that were made to subjugate me. Even when the table is shifted in their favor it's still not enough. It's not enough for them until you have been grinded into a pulp. As Abbott stated: "America resorts to the use of reason only as a final attempt to persuade, only after it has tried unsuccessfully to destroy a man, only after it is too late."
I deal with the oppression, but find it unmanageable to accept not getting the things I'm due. When it's time for the system to screw you over they are quick and masterful at accomplishing it. But, when giving justice, reparations etc. are due it's like pulling teeth. These are the injustices that drive me mad. "I have been twisted by justice the way other men can be twisted by love", so said Abbott. (In fact, for any of you that would like to dive into the mind and soul of a man that has endured the pure sickness of the Penal System I would encourage you to read his book "In the belly of the beast." You won't regret the time spent on it.
As I approach this year anniversary I wonder in what ways will my life shift gear. It will be a turning point- not just spiritually, but physically as well. Because as ironic as it might be- August 30, 2008 is the exact date my review for my next level is set. This next level will decide exactly what doors will be open to me: jobs, school. programs, more visits, contact visits, no handcuffs. Can you imagine that for the last 10 years I have had to be handcuffed everywhere I go, in/out my cell, in/out the shower, recreation yard, visit- back and forth, back and forth everyday all day! Not due to any prison rule violation, but simply because of my label- death row. I've got so many scars around my wrists that I no longer remember where they originated from ("Shackles have baptized my limbs with murderous rust."); so many scars that I just decided to get bracelets tattooed around my wrists (literally)- one for my wife and one for my daughter. Reminders that I'm chained to things more beautiful than these iron soul breakers. Whatever privileges come I will not dignify them by calling them more "freedoms" because does making a cage bigger make freedom any closer? I can be appreciative for what advantages I do get, but I can't dignify it to be more than something it's not.
I do the best I can to make free-dome a state of the mind, but freedom is not a one-dimensional thing. It cannot be COMPLETE/FULFILLED in a one-dimensional state. Freedom is multi-dimensional like a prism. For now I can only experience pieces of it, but I'm constantly in thought of what to pursue, what's waiting for me.
Whatever's waiting for me at the end of this month- be it upgrade or not- I'm going to have to decide how I will deal with it. I'm not quick to make promises, because a person can only tolerate what he has contempt for for so long. There is always a breaking point. It's a mantra I emit with much sincerity. This mantra-emanating from thoughts of not having touched my family in over 12 years- is one so strong that it threatens me with vulnerability. How does the steel hold up in the scorching fire????
Not long ago I watched the sands of time run down the hourglass as I awaited death. I now flip that same hourglass over. This time- at the other end of the spectrum- I watch the sands of time run down that hourglass again, but this time…..I await another aspect of Life.
What shall come of me (this steel) as I toss, turn, mold, soften, harden, re-form within the flames? I keep my purpose in focus and thrive on, as Abbott said:
"The most fragile and delicate of all ideas are those that reflect the fact that within human beings, there is an impenetrable area that no one can enter and defile: a heart of human tenderness so tenacious, so all-suffering and accepting, calm and resilient to human response, to love, that no force on earth can ever defeat it."
Therefore, I remain as strong as ever in the struggle and in the fire….fighting!!!
Kenneth 'Haramia' Foster
Friday, August 29, 2008
Rachel King (RIP)
Rachel King wrote about me several times. It is way past time for me to write something about her.
Rachel’s family has requested contributions to the National Coalition the Abolish to Death penalty, in lieu of flowers in her memory Rachel helped the abolition movement in many ways. Most people have no idea of the extent. To really know and understand Rachel, you need to read her works. It would honor her if you to took the time to read what she wrote. You would see first hand her contribution to the movement.
I got to know Rachel pretty well when she was writing her first, and I think greatest book, Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty. Check out any of these links to know Rachel and her work better.
Her next major work was Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories. Check out any of these links to know Rachel better.
Another very important piece by Rachel was NOT IN OUR NAME: Murder Victims Families Speak out Against the Death Penalty. It was a project of Barb Hood and Rachel’s during her stint as the inaugural Director of Alaska Against the Death Penalty.. The first printing was in 1997 and has since been updated and reprinted at least 4 times. Barb and Rachel began their project with pictures and interviews that were taken during the Virginia of Hope in 1996 Rachel used the message of Murder Victim’s Families for Reconciliation as the introductions for their work in photos and personal stories. Her message for this book was MVFR’s message:
“In the aftermath of a murder, we often hear cries for the death penalty. For centuries, killing people to punish them for killing has been a part of our culture. But in recent decades, the justifications that have long sustained the death penalty in the public mind have been largely discredited. For example, studies now show that the death penalty does not deter violent crime, and instead may provoke it; that executions are much more costly than life imprisonment, not less costly; and that police find the death penalty among the lease effective crime-fighting measures that many politicians and prosecutors would have us believe.
As reasons for supporting the death penalty grow thin under scrutiny, proponents often fall back on the old stand-by question: Well, what if someone in your family was murdered? Wouldn’t you want their murderer to die? This is meant to disarm us. “Of course,” we are expected to say. After all, our culture has long supported killing for killing. But as people who have experienced first-hand the effects of murder, we are here to say,
“NO—NOT IN OUR NAME.”
We are members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a national organization of family members who have lost relatives to murder to execution by the State. We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and work instead for alternatives to the death penalty. We promote policies that prevent violent crime and programs that help victims heal and rebuild their lives. We know too well the horrible effects of killing, and how important it is that the cycle of killing in this country be broken. We can’t stop all violence, but we can work to stop the violence carried out by a government that kills in our names.
Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation was founded in 1976 by Marie Deans of Richmond, Virginia, after the murder of her mother-in-law Penny. Since that time the organization has become a leader in the abolition movement, both nationally and internationally. Since 1993, MVFR’s “Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing” tours have helped spread the message to communities across the U.S. that executions are terrible memorials to people we love.”
If you read the Interview with Rachel on history of NOT IN OUR NAME you really begin to understand her.
Again, Rachel’s family requested that contributions be made to The National Coalition to Abolish the Death penalty in lieu of flowers. The NCADP is the leading organization in this country solely dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty. It is an organization that is worth your investment. Rachel invested in this organization and wanted you to do likewise.
Rachel King and I were both elected to the NCADP board in 1996 and we both had the privilege of serving as chairpersons on that board. Rachel was also honored by the NCADP to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. She believed strongly in the NCADP and in the Executive Director Diann Rust-Tierney. Diann, and all us have lost a great friend. An investment to the NCADP will go far in helping abolish the death penalty and in honoring Rachel.
Rachel contributed the royalties from Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty to the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing and Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights. As a founding & present board member of both organizations I can say we owe a debt of gratitude to Rachel. She also supported and promoted these additional organizations.
The Journey of Hope blog has been memorializing Rachel King since her death on Monday. I invite you to check out what others have said in her memory.
We have listed many personal comments as well as blog posting of MVFHR, ACLU, NCADP and others. Read how Marshall Dayan, Jack Payden-Travers, Ron Carlson, Phyllis Pautrat, Renny Cushing, Diann Rust-Tierney and others are remembering and honoring Rachel during this time.
The Journey of Hope blog would love for you to add your words of honor in her memory.
I will also be adding some additional blogs during the next few days sharing my thoughts and feelings about Rachel. I will share some special moments like the time in 1996 when she shaved her head to join Sam Reese Sheppard in solidarity and fun. This was years before she lost her hair the second time due to chemo.
There is the story about how Don’t Kill in Our Names, caused Common Courage Press to back out of their agreement to publish my book Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing in early 2003. I was still able to get the book printed in time travel with Rachel on an Alaskan book tour sponsored by Alaskans Against the Death Penalty in 2004. We promoted our books and each other.
Rachel kept a journal on her illness and her friends were updated by Journal reports sent out from time to time. I will share some of her thoughts of experiences she encountered as she courageously fought for life. She was a great battler. We can all learn from her. She is a heroine.
She was an angel sent from God.
Young people in the movement have someone to look up and to emulate. Who can fill her giant footprints? Maybe Rachel Lawler, Maybe Ashley Kincaid, Maybe Will McAuliffe, or Maybe you.
With this small glimpse of her life I hope you got to know Rachel King a little better. Show honor by reading her words and spreading them. Show honor to her by supporting her causes.
Her stories and her causes will help bring abolition of the death penalty. It is up to us how long that will take.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Visitors to la Fête à Neu-Neu in the outskirts of Paris could admire an authentic, working electric chair imported straight from the United States. What's more, the park would periodically "execute" a puppet for guests' entertainment -- and they could watch as the mannequin flopped around and screamed as the voltage coursed through his body. At the end, the dummy's head would slump forward, smoke drifting up from the hood over his head.
The electric chair belongs to Stéphane Camors, 40, who bought it for $10,000 in Florida. He first had it on display at a fun park near Milan in Italy and was charging visitors €1.65 to watch the dummy die. The park manager told La Repubblica in July that 50 executions were performed daily, with 150 taking place on Sunday.
Protests against the macabre act, though, shut down the electric. "It is my dragon or my King Kong, it's just an adornment," he told AFP. "It's not meant to glorify the death penalty."
The death penalty is not only illegal in the European Union but also severely frowned upon as a form of punishment, making this form of entertainment particularly politically incorrect. Click here for video.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
In 2007, the Supreme Court accepted a case from a Kentucky inmate challenging the constitutionality of lethal injections. This created a national moratorium on executions that lasted for more than seven months. Now, after the longest death penalty moratorium in 25 years, executions have resumed in the U.S. Georgia executed the first inmate, and Texas followed, executing eight more people. The next execution in Texas is scheduled for Sept. 9. Litigation that caused the moratorium did not question the death penalty itself but rather the manner in which it is carried out. This forest-for-the-trees approach, however, avoids a fundamental question: What did we learn during the seven-month-plus postponement? And how should what we learned influence us as we go forward?
Arizona Judge Rudolph Gerber, who came to oppose the death penalty after serving on the state's appeals court, recently noted that the moratorium has had several ripple effects. "Around the country, no judges are staying up late awaiting the final appeals from the condemned," he wrote in an op-ed for The Sacramento Bee. "Governors and justices of the Supreme Court are not worrying that the person about to be executed may be the exceptional one who is innocent. Prison guards, family members of victims and of death row inmates, and even the media are relieved of the tension and uncertainty that each pending execution brings."
"But much of the death penalty system remains unaffected by this hold on executions," Gerber continued. "Prosecutions, trials, appeals and the rituals of death row continue to absorb an enormous share of the judicial system's time and resources. Justices from some of the states' highest courts have complained about the extraordinary strain this one issue places on the bench. In many states, there are not enough qualified lawyers willing to handle the appeals."
Gerber brought a real-world analysis to the issue of capital punishment. But he could have gone even further. The fact is, our 30-year experiment with capital punishment has failed. The death penalty system remains flawed and fraught with blunders, biases and bureaucracies. Blunders, because too often it convicts innocent people and sends them away to await execution. Biases, because no matter how much we tinker, we can't get around the fact that race and class influence who receives the ultimate penalty. Bureaucracies, because appeals can take decades - and it is the murder victim's family members who suffer as the appeals of the perpetrator who took their loved one away wend interminably through the courts.
During the recent moratorium on executions, several notable things happened. Three states - California, North Carolina and Tennessee - launched studies of their death penalty systems. Two states, Maryland and Nebraska, debated abolishing the death penalty in their state legislatures. A third state, New Jersey, did away with capital punishment altogether. For the first time in Texas, Rick Reed, a candidate for the Travis County district attorney's office, ran on a platform opposing capital punishment.
What happened when states paused and contemplated the pros and cons of this public policy? If anything, more Americans came to question whether the death penalty is really necessary. And more Texans learned that without the death penalty, the word doesn't turn upside down, murder rates don't skyrocket and death-row inmates don't run away from prisons murdering more people. During this period, more people questioned what we are accomplishing and if the significant costs of conducting trials and appeals could be put to better use.
One American who thought so was Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. "The time for a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits that it produces has surely arrived," Stevens wrote in the latest court case. Stevens - voting to uphold the constitutionality of a specific lethal injection protocol but expressing his view that the death penalty itself now violates the Eighth Amendment - saw the forest for the trees. As Texas rushes to execute more inmates, we all could use Stevens' clarity and vision.
Hedayati, a government senior, is president of Students Against the Death Penalty, member of Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress advisory board member.
As many of you know, I have been waiting on the results from the DNA testing of the true perpetrator, Victor Belton’s clothing. Well unfortunately, thus far, the testing has not produced the definitive results hoped for by me, my family, friends and supporters. Still the tests were not in vain. The thing that I am doing now is what I have always been doing and that is trying to strengthen my case for eventual freedom. But I must admit, this year has been hard with the restarting of the Texas killing machine... Already again, friends I have known for years have been killed... No matter how one(s) may feel about those executed by this state, it must be remembered that ALL LIFE is sacred. And those men who were executed were NOT the same men who were condemned years ago for crimes they may or may not have committed.
Now for me, there has been a feeling of frustration at the judicial process. The reason being is because in relation to the law, many of the men executed shouldn’t have been. So what does that mean for me and the many men here with me who have our backs up against the wall and are on our last appeals? It means that what we need is something more than the courts. It means what we need is the right minded political pressure which will then hopefully let our political establishment know that we need them to step in and do what is right. And that is, to change laws and/ or make judicial appointments which can hopefully see less biased decision making in regards to cases which call for the ultimate penalty to be enacted. And that penalty is the taking of another human life in the name of justice.
For my case in particular, I have recently asked that the many of you who support me lend your voices to the outcry against the injustice that has befallen me. And as one, to write in to the mayor of El Paso, who has taken a brave stance against the death penalty. And urge him to take a look at the facts of my case and hopefully lend his powerful political voice to my particular plight and help push for my freedom. Yet he cannot do it alone. My wonderful friends and supporters, the time is now to make the push and throw our own considerable voice behind those politicians who not only stand opposed to this death penalty. But who will also make the stand with us in the open to demand justice for those like myself who have been wrongly convicted of crimes that we simply DID NOT commit. The time is now...
I would like to thank everyone who has thus far joined in the writing campaign to the mayor. But I urge you still to understand that you must not stop at one letter. But please take what you have done and urge other people to match you in what you have done.
Because of where I am in my appeals my friends, every moment of every day must be utilized to its fullest potential. You have come through for me before. Those of you who were with me in 2005 when I had an execution date then know what I talking about ie., ALIVE, TDPAM, CEDP, TCADP, NAZIM HIKMET, PAUL ROUGEAU COMMITTEE, ACAT, THE WELFARE POETS, KPFT(HITAJI, ROBERT MUHAMMAD, ZEN, OBEDIKE, AKUA HOLT, RENEE FELTZ, etc,), PROFESSOR DOW, VOICES FROM DEATH ROW, 4WARD EVER etc, and the many individuals who joined in to sign and carry petitions on my behalf.... You know what I was up against and we succeeded in bringing attention to my plight and that and more is what we need again. You MUST show everyone that my case MUST NOT be over looked. Otherwise we risk my case being one of far too many where justice goes unserved.
Lastly, I want to again thank everyone. But also again urge that you all not stop at one letter. Email others. Urge that the facts of my case be heard. Set up your own support sites for me in your communities and build up support and link with everyone. THE TIME IS NOW. And my friends and supporters we must diligently be proactive in our efforts. THE TIME IS NOW. And this means the time for my freedom and the time for justice!
In Strength and In Spirit!
Tony Egbuna Ford
This year's graduating class of the Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College, VT, proudly invited Mumia Abu-Jamal to be the keynote speaker of their commencement this past Sunday, August 10th 2008. It was a unanimous decision made by all of the graduates to invite Abu-Jamal, alumni of the college, to shed his wisdom and insight as a renowned journalist, freedom-fighter, and scholar. Watch video of introduction / Listen to full speech
RELATED: On July 22, the US Third Circuit Court ruled against Mumia's en banc appeal, thereby affirming the court's March 27 decision denying him a new guilt-phase trial. Read the response from Mumia's attorney, and articles by Linn Washington Jr, Jeff Mackler, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. SEE ALSO: Pam and Ramona Africa in Detroit II MOVE Still Looking For Philadelphia Justice II Mumia's radio-essays at Prison Radio II Taína Asili's website
Goddard IMA Commencement Speech by Alumni Mumia Abu-Jamal
By Taína Asili
This year's graduating class of the Individualized Master of Arts program at Goddard College proudly invited Mumia Abu-Jamal to be the keynote speaker of their commencement this past Sunday, August 10th 2008. It was a unanimous decision made by all of the graduates to invite Abu-Jamal, alumni of the college, to shed his wisdom and insight as a renowned journalist, freedom-fighter, and scholar.
Mumia Abu-Jamal first walked upon the grassy hills of Vermont's alternative college as a student working towards his BA in the 1970's. Unable to complete his degree work then, it was Goddard who he once again approached in the 1990's, yet this time as a U.S. political prisoner. He chose Goddard because, "Goddard was ahead of the curve, transforming individuals and their respective communities by expanding the realm of knowledge based on the fundamental principles of democracy."
It was during this work that he met his adviser and ally, Margo MacLeod, who guided Abu-Jamal through the difficult process of completing his BA degree from behind prison walls. Years later, MacLeod became the founder and Program Director of the IMA program, which these graduates have just completed, helping to support a unique form of education for hundreds of students, just as she had for Abu-Jamal. It is for this reason MacLeod, who is no longer working at the college as of this year, was chosen by the graduates to introduce Abu-Jamal during their commencement. In her introduction MacLeod shares, "It seems to me that Mumia has achieved the kind of integration of body, mind, and spirit that we strive for within this program, and that each graduate today has achieved in some measure in their work."
Following MacLeod's introduction, Abu-Jamal's voice rang strong through two large speakers facing the audience, a packed house of eleven graduates, their family members, fellow students and college faculty. Some graduates had worried that not having his physical body present might create a vacant atmosphere. However, this fear was dispelled, as evidenced by the resounding standing ovation following his speech by a great majority of those in attendance.
During this passionate speech Abu-Jamal shared his fond feelings towards the college, and his appreciation for what he termed "one of the finest and most unique colleges in the country." He also warned the graduates, "You leave Goddard at a time when the nation and the world faces serious challenges, as do indeed you all. What the nation needs, and indeed what the world needs as well, is new clear thinking about the challenges facing us." Later adding, "But as Goddard grads you are all fully equipped with the ability to think, a faculty I might add not much in evidence in our national political life I'm afraid. But this ability when used critically and flexibly may yet result in finding sane, humane solutions to our problems."
One graduate, James Rose, reacted to Abu-Jamal's speech by stating, "I was inspired by Mumia's speech. His voice and words invoked a renewed commitment to truth and compassion, a commitment I need to practice every day. As a graduate with the privilege of a higher education, he reminded me of my new roles of teacher, leader, and an open-minded thinker."
As one of the graduates myself, my hope is that Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice at our graduation will help to shed light on his unjust incarceration reflecting the work he has done to shine light on us all.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Death Penalty - Strongly Retentionist:Biden's record on death penalty reform is the weakest of any of the 2008 Democratic candidates. He is a supporter of capital punishment, and holds the distinction of being the author of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (often referred to as the "Biden crime bill"), which expanded the federal death penalty to include drug trafficking, a nonviolent offense.
Biden is credited for authoring several significant pieces of legislation in the area of federal law enforcement, including The Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act of 1994, widely known as the Biden Law, which:
Biden Law of 1994 created several new capital offenses
The law was passed shortly before the Oklahom City bombing, and its provisions were applied to execute Timothy McVeigh. The legislation received bipartisan support, but was reviled by death penalty opponents and civil libertarians. Some believe it broke ground for the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.
- Banned the manufacture of 19 specific semiautomatic "assault weapons"
- Allocated more money to build prisons & set up bootcamps for delinquent minors
- Designated 50 new federal offenses, including gang membership, and created several new federal death penalty offenses, including murders related to drug dealing, drive-by shooting murders, civil rights-related murders, murders of federal law enforcement officers, and death caused by acts of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.179 Nov 11, 2007
Vote to table, or kill, a motion to send the bill back to the joint House-Senate conference committee with instructions to delete the provisions in the bill that would make it harder for prisoners given the death penalty in state courts to appeal.
Voted NO on limiting death penalty appeals. Reference: Bill S.735 ; vote number 1996-66 on Apr 17, 1996
Friday, August 22, 2008
ABC News has more updates about Jeff Wood's execution stay.
A federal court today temporarily stopped the execution of a man who was the getaway driver in a robbery that ended in murder, saying he should have the opportunity to argue he is too mentally ill to be executed.A federal court stayed the execution of Jeff Wood, who was scheduled to be put to death on Aug. 21.(Courtesy Kristin Wood)
Jeff Wood was scheduled to be executed in Texas Thursday night for his role in the 1996 death of Kris Keeran, a gas station convenience store clerk. Wood was waiting in the car while his former roommate robbed the store, and shot and killed Keeran.
The case has received national media attention because it would be one of the few executions under a legal doctrine that made Wood responsible for crimes committed by his accomplices that "should have been anticipated" -- even if he did not actually commit the crime.
But federal judge Orlando Garcia stayed the execution for another reason, finding that Texas violated Wood's constitutional rights by refusing to provide Wood with a lawyer to help him argue that he is too mentally incompetent to be executed.
"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," Garcia wrote.
Wood's attorneys said that Texas did not plan to appeal Garcia's ruling.Garcia said there was some evidence that Wood did not understand the connection between his role in Keeran's death and the reason he was sentenced to death. He found that Wood should be given the chance to argue that he is mentally incompetent.
Wood was initially found too mentally incompetent to stand trial. After a few months in a state hospital, Wood was found competent to go to trial, though he had not had any medical treatment during that time. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998.
An earlier mental health evaluation said Wood had delusional thought patterns and could not appreciate the consequences of his actions. His wife and father, in previous interviews with ABCNews.com, said Wood was eager to please and has trouble understanding information.
"He had a very strong need to be accepted," said his wife, Kristin. "He very easily went along with whoever wanted to accept him. That's why he ended up in bad company."
Texas death row inmate Jeff Wood and his wife, Kristin. Wood was scheduled to be executed Aug. 21, even though he did not kill anyone. A federal court issued a stay of execution today, which the state of Texas does not plan to appeal. (Courtesy of Kristin Wood)
"He didn't know how to process information the way other people do," said Wood's father, Daniel. "He didn't know how to plan. He didn't know how to put things together. He loved to fish, but he couldn't plan for fresh water versus salt water. His solution was to bring everything."
A jury found Wood guilty after deliberating for about 90 minutes. During the penalty phase of the trial, during which defense lawyers try to persuade the jury to spare the defendant's life, Wood told his lawyers not to call any witnesses or cross-examine any prosecution witnesses.
His trial lawyer said he was morally opposed to Wood's decision, calling it "a gesture of suicide," court papers say.
Danny Reneau, Wood's former roommate, was convicted of shooting Keeran between the eyes during the robbery on Jan. 2, 1996. Reneau was executed in 2002.
Wood, who told police Keeran was a friend, later admitted that he came into the store after hearing the gunshot that killed Keeran, court opinions in the case say. Wood then helped Reneau take the store VCR and surveillance tapes -- but only after Reneau forced him to do so at gunpoint, Wood claimed.
Wood was convicted under a Texas law known as the law of parties.
Though most states have similar laws, often called felony murder statutes, they are rarely used to sentence criminals to death. There have been at least seven such executions, excluding murder-for-hire cases, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person may be executed for a murder he or she did not commit or intend to commit if they were a "major participant" in the crime or acted with "reckless indifference to the value of human life."
The Texas Board of Parole and Pardons on Tuesday denied Wood's clemency petition.
What: Movie: "Black August" starring Gary Dourdan as George Jackson
plus special guest, Capital X
When: Friday, August 22, 7:30 PM
Where: SHAPE Community Center, 3815 Live Oak
Why: To commemorate Black August and remember our fallen freedom fighters, George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson, and so many more.
Cost: $5.00--no one turned away for lack of funds. Money raised is for the 9th annual Texas March to Stop Executions on October 25 at 2PM
Today marks the 37th anniversary of the assassination of our beloved Comrade George L. Jackson, aka "Soledad Brother." I'm sending you this article written in 2000 and published in the S.F. Bay View newspaper for your information. The only changes would be the dates and number of years Hugo and Ruchell have now been incarcerated, 44 and 45 years respectively in California gulags. You can find more info at www.hugopinell.org.
Black August 2000: A story of African freedom
By Kiilu Nyasha, 23 July 2000
Black August is a month of great significance for Africans throughout the Diaspora, but particularly here in the U.S. where it originated. “August,” as Mumia Abu-Jamal noted, “is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.”.
On this 21st anniversary of Black August, first organized to honor our fallen freedom fighters, Jonathan and George Jackson, Khatari Gaulden, James McClain, William Christmas, and the sole survivor of the August 7, 1970 Courthouse Slave Rebellion, Ruchell Cinque Magee, it is still a time to embrace the principles of unity, self-sacrifice, political education, physical fitness and/or training in martial arts, resistance, and spiritual renewal.. xo
The concept, Black August, grew out of the need to expose to the light of day the glorious and heroic deeds of those Afrikan women and men who recognized and struggled against the injustices heaped upon people of color on a daily basis in America.
One cannot tell the story of Black August without first providing the reader with a brief glimpse of the “Black Movement” behind California prison walls in the Sixties, led by George Jackson and W. L. Nolen, among others.
As Jackson wrote: “...when I was accused of robbing a gas station of $70, I accepted a deal...but when time came for sentencing, they tossed me into the penitentiary with one to life. It was 1960. I was 18 years old.... I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas. I met black guerrillas, George ’Big Jake’ Lewis, and James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Torry Gibson, and many, many others.
We attempted to transform the Black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality. As a result, each of us has been subject to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state. Our mortality rate is almost what you would expect to find in a history of Dachau. Three of us [Nolen, Sweet Jugs Miller, and Cleve Edwards) were murdered several months ago [Jan. 13, 1969] by a pig shooting from thirty feet above their heads with a military rifle.” (Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson)
When the brothers first demanded the killer guard be tried for murder, they were rebuffed. Upon their insistence, the administration held a kangaroo court and three days later returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide.”. Shortly afterward, a white guard was found beaten to death and thrown from a tier. Six days later, three prisoners were accused of murder, and became known as The Soledad Brothers.
“I am being tried in court right now with two other brothers. John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo, for the alleged slaying of a prison guard. This charge carries an automatic death penalty for me. I can’t get life. I already have it.”
On August 7, 1970, just a few days after George was transferred to San Quentin, his younger brother Jonathan Jackson, 17, invaded Marin County Courthouse single-handed, with a satchel full of handguns, an assault rifle and a shotgun hidden under his raincoat. “Freeze,” he commanded as he tossed guns to William Christmas, James McClain, and Ruchell Magee. Magee was on the witness stand testifying for McClain, on trial for assaulting a guard in the wake of a guard’s murder of another Black prisoner, Fred Billingsley, beaten and tear gassed to death.
A jailhouse lawyer, Magee had deluged the courts with petitions for seven years contesting his illegal conviction in ’63. The courts had refused to listen, so Magee seized the hour and joined the guerrillas as they took the judge, prosecutor and three jurors hostage to a waiting van. To reporters gathering quickly outside the courthouse, Jonathan shouted, “You can take our pictures. We are the revolutionaries!”
Operating with courage and calm even their enemies had to respect, the four Black freedom fighters commandeered their hostages out of the courthouse without a hitch. The plan was to use the hostages to take over a radio station and broadcast the racist, murderous prison conditions and demand the immediate release of The Soledad Brothers. But before Jonathan could drive the van out of the parking lot, the San Quentin guards arrived and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, Jonathan, Christmas, McClain and the judge lay dead. Magee and the prosecutor were critically wounded, and one juror suffered a minor arm wound.
Magee survived his wounds and was tried originally with co-defendant Angela Davis. Their trials were later severed and Davis was eventually acquitted of all charges. Magee was convicted of simple kidnap and remains in prison to date—37 years with no physical assaults on his record. An incredible jailhouse lawyer, Magee has been responsible for countless prisoners being released—the main reason he was kept for nearly 20 years in one lockup after another. He is currently at Corcoran State Prison, having been recently transferred from Pelican Bay, remains strong and determined to win his freedom and that of all oppressed peoples.
In his second book, Blood In My Eye, published posthumously, Jackson noted: “Reformism is an old story in Amerika. There have been depressions and socio-economic political crises throughout the period that marked the formation of the present upper-class ruling circle, and their controlling elites. But the parties of the left were too committed to reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential....Fascism has temporarily succeeded under the guise of reform.”
Those words ring even truer today as we witness a form of fascism that has replaced gas ovens with executions and torture chambers; plantations with prison industrial complexes deployed in rural white communities to perpetuate white supremacy and Black/Brown slavery.
The concentration of wealth at the top is worse than ever: One percent now owns more wealth than that of the combined 95% of the U.S. population; individuals are so rich their wealth exceeds the total budgets of numerous nations—as they plunder the globe in the quest for more.
“The fascist must expand to live. Consequently he has pushed his frontiers to the farthest lands and peoples.... I’m going to bust my heart trying to stop these smug, degenerate, primitive, omnivorous, uncivil—and anyone who would aid me, I embrace you.”
“International capitalism cannot be destroyed without the extremes of struggle...We are the only ones...who can get at the monster’s heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on.... I don’t want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth, and licentious, usurious economics.” (Soledad Brother)
On August 21, 1971, after numerous failed attempts on his life, the State finally succeeded in assassinating George Jackson, then Field Marshall of the Black Panther Party, in what was described by prison officials as an escape attempt in which Jackson allegedly smuggled a gun into San Quentin in a wig. That feat was proven impossible, and evidence subsequently suggested a setup designed by prison officials to eliminate Jackson once and for all.
However, they didn’t count on losing any of their own in the process. On that fateful day, three notoriously racist prison guards and two inmate turnkeys were also killed. Jackson was shot and killed by guards as he drew fire away from the other prisoners in the Adjustment Center (lockup) of San Quentin.
Subsequently, six A/C prisoners were singled out and put on trial -- wearing 30 lbs of chains in Marin courthouse—for various charges of murder and assault: Fleeta Drumgo, David Johnson, Hugo L.A. Pinell (Yogi), Luis Talamantez, Johnny Spain, and Willie Sundiata Tate. Only one was convicted of murder, Johnny Spain. The others were either acquitted or convicted of assault. Pinell is the only one remaining in prison and has suffered prolonged torture in lockups since 1969. He is currently serving his 10th year in Pelican Bay’s SHU, a torture chamber if ever there was one. A true warrior, Pinell would put his life on the line to defend his fellow captives.
As decades passed, our Black scholars, like Mumia Abu-Jamal, learned of other liberation moves that happened in Black August. E.g., the first and only armed revolution whereby Africans freed themselves from chattel slavery commenced on August 21, 1791 in Haiti. Nat Turner’s slave rebellion began on August 21, 1831 (coincidence?), and Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad started in August. As Mumia stated, “Their sacrifice, their despair, their determination and their blood has painted the month Black for all time.”
Let us honor our martyred freedom fighters as George Jackson counseled: “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution”
Thursday, August 21, 2008
More to come soon...
Last week, ten legislators wrote a letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Perry urging clemency for Jeff Wood. Here is another letter from a state legislator: State Representative Mike Villareal. We also know that Rep Dora Olivo wrote her own letter.
Last week, ten legislators wrote a letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Perry urging clemency for Jeff Wood. Here is another letter from a state legislator: State Representative Mike Villareal. We also know that Rep Dora Olivo wrote her own letter.
August 12, 2008
The Honorable Rick Perry
Ms. Rissie Owens
Members of the
Executive Clemency Section
Dear Governor Perry, Chairwoman Owens and Board Members:
As you know, the execution of Jeffrey Wood is currently set for August 21, 2008. I am writing to respectfully request a review of the facts of the case which I believe urge commutation of Jeffrey Wood's sentence to no more than life without parole.
Mr. Wood was convicted of capital murder under the Texas Law of Parties. It appears that he neither killed, nor anticipated that Daniel Earl Reneau would kill, Kris Keeran. It also appears that Mr. Wood did not actively participate in the convenience store robbery in
Our justice system should be required to meet a high standard to use the Law of Parties provision to extend capital punishment to someone who did not directly commit murder. It appears that in the case of Jeffrey Wood application of the Law of Parties falls short.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Michael U. Villarreal
By Darryl FearsWashington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008; Page A02
The state of Texas is scheduled to execute Jeffery Lee Wood by lethal injection tonight, even though he did not actually kill anyone. Wood was sitting in a truck outside a convenience store when an accomplice shot and killed a cashier in a botched robbery 12 years ago.
If the execution moves forward, Wood, 35, will become only the eighth person to be put to death as an accomplice since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. More than 1,100 people have been executed during this period. The executed accomplices do not include those who were put to death for hiring someone to commit murder.
"It is very, very rare," said David Fathi, U.S. program director for Human Rights Watch. "This is a case that illustrates everything that is wrong with the death penalty in Texas."
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recently voted 7 to 0 against clemency. Gov. Rick Perry (R) can issue a reprieve, but experts said that is unlikely in the face of such a strong decision by the board.
Wood has lost challenges to his conviction in state and federal courts, and his lawyers recently filed a motion for a stay of execution to pursue an "incompetency to be executed" claim. A spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general said the office would not comment on the Wood case.
"It certainly doesn't look good," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "The governor can't grant clemency without a recommendation for it. We've seen cases get stayed literally at the eleventh hour, so it's not over."
Since the case began, lawyers and family members have argued that Wood was mentally unfit for trial. They say he has a severe learning disability, is easily coaxed into doing what he is told and is delusional. Wood signed a statement confessing to the crime.
At first, a judge agreed with the lawyers, sending Wood to a hospital for evaluation. A jury later determined that he could stand trial.
Wood's crime fell under the Texas "law of parties" statute that allows an accomplice to be charged with a capital crime if his actions contributed to a murder.
On Jan. 2, 1996, he and a roommate, Daniel Reneau, drove to a gas station and convenience store in Kerrville, Tex. Court records show that Wood and Reneau had talked with Kriss Keeran, a cashier, and another employee about staging a fake robbery.
As Wood waited outside, Reneau entered the store and the plan unraveled. Reneau shot Keeran in the forehead with a .22-caliber handgun. Wood and Reneau fled with a safe.
The prosecutor in the case called the crime a cold and premeditated homicide in the trial that convicted both men. Reneau was executed in 2003.
Death penalty opponents argue, however, that Texas has applied its law-of-parties statute too loosely.
A 1982 decision by the Supreme Court appears to support such a view. The court decided 5 to 4 in Enmund v. Florida that imposing the death penalty on a defendant when a murder was committed by others was a violation of the Eighth Amendment if the defendant "does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place, or lethal force will be employed."
But a second 5 to 4 decision by the court appears to support Texas. In Tison v. Arizona, a case in which family members broke their father out of prison and then killed a family of four that they flagged down to help repair their getaway car, the court said that the death penalty could apply if it could be shown that the defendant was a "major participant" in the felony and acted with "reckless indifference to human life."
"That's why I think this issue may come back to the Supreme Court," Dieter said. "This is an area that needs some clarification."
Texas, which has put more people to death since 1976 than any other state, executed three men as accomplices between 1985 and 1993.
Steven Hatch of Oklahoma was the last person executed as an accomplice for his role in the torture and shooting of a family and the slaying of the parents. Hatch died in 1996, but his accomplice, Glen Ake, who shot the family members, is serving a life sentence after cooperating with police and prosecutors.
In July, Dale Leo Bishop was put to death in Mississippi for the 1998 kidnapping and beating of Marcus Gentry. Bishop held the 22-year-old victim while another man, Jessie Johnson, bludgeoned him with a carpenter's hammer.
Dieter said the Bishop case was not included on his organization's list of accomplice executions "because we made a decision that this wasn't the same kind of thing."
He held the man while another man killed him," Dieter said.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has unanimously denied clemency for Jeff Wood, a man who killed no one. This cannot be tolerated.
Imagine being 14 years old and waiting to learn whether your father is going to live or die. Only you're not in a hospital waiting room, or anticipating dreadful news from a war zone. You are in Texas, and your father is on death row. His life is in the hands of seven people who will sit around a table and, in a deliberate manner, officially decide whether he should, indeed, be strapped to a gurney and injected with lethal chemicals, as planned. On the narrow chance that they decide to grant clemency, it is then up to the governor, a man who has signed off on more executions than any other in the country, to follow through.
This is what Paige Lynn Wood went through all day yesterday, which also happened to be her father's 35th birthday. In the end, her worst fears were realized: On Tuesday afternoon, the board decided, in a vote of 7-0, to execute her father, Jeff Wood. Wood is scheduled to die by lethal injection Thursday night for a murder he did not commit. It's not just that he has a strong innocence claim, or that his state-appointed council was completely incompetent during his capital trial. The fact is, Wood did not kill anyone -- and no one argues that he did. The person who committed the murder for which he is scheduled to die was already executed, six years ago.
The Crime, an Overzealous Prosecutor and a Man Named "Dr. Death"
On New Years Day 1996, 22-year-old Jeff Wood was in on a plot to rob a Texaco convenience store in Kerrville, Texas, along with a man named Daniel Reneau. The store's assistant manager was an accomplice in the robbery: He was going to help Reneau navigate the store. But things didn't go according to plan, and in the early hours of Jan. 2, Reneau shot their friend Kriss Keeran, who was working behind the counter, in the face, killing him instantly.
Wood was startled when he heard the gunshot, but he reportedly helped carry out the subsequent robbery anyway, stealing several thousand dollars. He and Reneau were arrested within 24 hours. They confessed to the crime, and Wood led police to the murder weapon.
While it remains unclear to what extent Wood was supposed to participate in the robbery, what is absolutely undisputed is that Wood had no role in Keeran's murder. According to his attorneys, he was not even aware that Reneau was carrying a gun. After all, the robbery was supposed to be an inside job. As reiterated in the clemency brief filed by Wood’s defense attorneys early this month, "Reneau -- the only person inside the store and who carried a weapon -- alone made the decision to take Keeran's life. Mr. Wood was outside the store in his brother's truck."
Months later, during the trial of Daniel Reneau, there was no ambiguity over who had killed Keeran. According to Jordan Smith of the Austin Chronicle, "the state argued that he was responsible for Keeran's murder and portrayed Wood as little more than a sap, steamrolled by the villainous Reneau."
Renaeu was sentenced to death in March 1997. He was executed in 2002. Following the execution, the Dallas Morning News reported that when "asked on death row last week to identify the shooter, Reneau had a one-word reply: 'Me.'"
Having locked in a death sentence for Reneau, it should have defied logic and legal ethics for prosecutors to change the story to make Wood the real villain. But that's what happened. "At Wood's trial," reports Smith, "prosecutors reversed their strategy, arguing that Wood deserved to die because he'd gotten Reneau to 'do his dirty work.'"
Wood's defense lawyers were useless. "Bowing to Mr. Wood's emotional and irrational insistence, Mr. Wood's appointed lawyers declined to cross-examine any witnesses or present any evidence on Mr. Wood's behalf," his appeals attorneys argue. "Mr. Wood's trial attorneys called Mr. Wood's actions a 'gesture of suicide.'" If anything, it was an assisted suicide. Reports Smith, "not only did (Wood's defense) withhold from the jury evidence of his troubled youth, but they also failed to cross-examine any state witnesses, including the wildly speculative testimony of Dr. James Grigson -- derisively known by many, including colleagues in the psychiatric community, as 'Dr. Death' for predictably offering testimony in capital cases that a defendant would pose a danger to society, one of the questions a jury must decide in order to impose a death sentence." (In 1995, Grigson was kicked out of the American Psychiatric Association and Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians for "flagrant ethical violations.")
Thus, one year after Renaeu was given a death sentence for killing Keeran, Wood, despite not having been present to witness the murder, was given a death sentence for the same crime.
The Case of Kenneth Foster Jr.
The case of Jeff Wood may sound beyond the pale, even for the state that carries out more executions than any other jurisdiction in the country, but it is by no means the first time the state of Texas has tried to kill two people for a murder committed by one person. In fact, at this same time last year, Kenneth Foster Jr. faced execution in a case with striking similarities to Jeff Wood's. Foster was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood Jr., despite the fact that the actual murder had been committed by another man.
Foster was 19 years old and acting as the "getaway driver" in a series of robberies when one of the people in the car, a man named Mauriceo Brown, shot and killed LaHood, the son of a prominent attorney, at the end of the night. Foster was 80 feet away -- like Wood, waiting in the car -- when Brown pulled the trigger. He had the windows rolled up and was unaware that a murder was taking place. Mauriceo Brown admitted to the murder; he was executed in 2006.
Last year, Foster's life was saved by a grassroots movement to stop his execution. At the center of the public outcry was the injustice of a legal statute, one that, in its application, is uniquely Texan.
An Unjust Law
Foster and Wood were both sentenced under Texas's "law of parties," which is a twist on a conspiracy statute that allows a defendant to be held accountable for a crime even if he or she did not commit it. As I explained in writing about the Foster case last summer, in the state of Texas, "this can mean sentencing someone to death even if he or she had no proven role in a murder."Texas's law states that "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." Defendants, the Texas courts say, can be held responsible for "failing to anticipate" that the "conspiracy -- in Foster's case, the robberies, for which he was the getaway driver -- would lead to a murder.
In Wood's case, the murder was also unplanned. Thus, he too is to be executed for "failing to anticipate" that someone would be killed.
As he faced execution, Foster shared something else in common with Wood: He had a young daughter who was a courageous voice of protest on behalf of her father. At a July 2007 rally, 11-year-old Nydesha Foster read from an essay about her father. "They hate on my dad because they say, 'he should have known better.' Are they following the law to the letter? Or the letter to the law?" She continued:I stand as a child in the light of redemption. I benefit from his kisses and what he does even when people don't look or listen. So what is justice? Shame on you, Texas, because this time you're really wrong. This is my poem, my prayer, my song. That you will be known for something other than killing and ignoring the truth. We all make mistakes. Even you.
You can watch it here.
Like Nydesha, Paige Lynn Wood has stood in public to defend the life of her father. Pictures of her and other family members at rallies, making signs and approaching the governor's mansion can be found on the Save Jeff Wood Web site. So can her poetry.
One of her poems is called "Waiting."I sit and wait … And wonder/I have been waiting my whole lifeAll the time wondering … Is my daddy coming home?
One is titled "Texas Took My Dad."My dad is not the killer/That you are led to believe he is.He is a kind and gentle soul who only tried to do/What he believed was best for me... And for those of you/Who want to kill my dad …For shame, for shame/It's you who are now to blame/for taking away my life!
Tell Gov. Rick Perry Not to Execute Jeff Wood
Jeff Wood's supporters are urging the governor of Texas to grant a 30-day stay of execution. Call or fax the governor today:
Phone: (512) 463-2000
Fax: (512) 463-1849
Rogelio Cannady has been given a Nov. 6 execution date, and Eric Cathey
has been given an execution date of Nov. 18; they should both be
(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)
Impending Texas execution schedule # since 1982 # under Perry
21 Jeff Wood 414 175
Sept. 9 Gregory Wright 415 176
10 Charles Hood 416 177
17 William Murray 417 178
18 Joseph Ries 418 179
Oct. 16 Kevin Watts 419 180
28 Eric Nenno 420 181
Nov. 6 Elkie Taylor 421 182
6 Rogelio Cannady 422 183
12 George Whitaker III 423 184
13 Denard Manns 424 185
18 Eric Cathey 425 186
20 Robert Hudson 426 187
22 Reginald Perkins 427 187
The New York Times is reporting that Governor Perry "hasn’t made a decision" on whether to grant a 30 day stay of execution for Jeff Wood. So, please call his office and urge him to issue a stay.
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.Published: August 19, 2008
HOUSTON — Jeffrey Lee Wood is sentenced to die this week for the murder of a store clerk during a robbery, even though he was sitting in a truck outside the convenience store when it happened.
Mr. Wood is the latest person to face the death penalty under a Texas law that makes accomplices subject to the death penalty if a murder occurs during a crime.
His lawyers say Mr. Wood is a gullible man of limited intellect who suffers from delusions. In their view, Mr. Wood was never mentally competent to stand trial in the first place.
Nor, they argue, was Mr. Wood aware that his partner in the robbery, David Reneau, was carrying a gun, according to testimony presented at Mr. Reneau’s trial but never brought up during Mr. Wood’s trial.
These arguments failed to sway the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, however. On Tuesday afternoon, the seven-member board unanimously rejected a petition from Mr. Wood’s lawyers for a commutation of his sentence.
That means he will be executed Thursday evening, unless Gov. Rick Perry grants a 30-day reprieve or a judge issues a stay. “The governor hasn’t made a decision,” Mr. Perry’s spokeswoman, Allison Castle, said.
Mr. Wood, who is 35, also lost a motion before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday. His lawyers had asked the court to appoint a lawyer to pursue the argument that Mr. Wood lacks the mental competence to be executed.
Mr. Wood and Mr. Reneau were tried separately for the killing of Kriss Keeran, a 31-year-old cashier who was shot in the forehead during the robbery of a gas station and convenience store in Kerrville, Tex., on Jan. 2, 1996.
Mr. Reneau was executed in 2002.
The two robbers were roommates and knew the victim. Evidence at the two trials showed the pair had planned the robbery for about two weeks and had talks with Mr. Keeran and an assistant manager at the store, William Bunker, about staging a fake robbery.
But that plan went awry, and Mr. Reneau ended up walking into the store and shooting Mr. Keeran between the eyes with a .22-caliber pistol while Mr. Wood waited outside.
Then he and Mr. Wood carried the store safe and the store’s security camera out and retreated to a house belonging to Mr. Wood’s parents, where they tried to break open the safe. At the house, Mr. Wood bragged to a relative about the robbery.
A jury found Mr. Wood incompetent to stand trial after listening to testimony from a psychiatrist who said Mr. Wood was delusional and could not grasp reality. But after Mr. Wood spent a short stint in a mental hospital, a second jury found him competent. The judge did not let Mr. Wood’s lawyers cross-examine some witnesses at that hearing.
After his conviction, Mr. Wood wanted to represent himself in deliberations on his sentence, but the judge refused. Mr. Wood ordered his lawyers not to cross-examine any witnesses in the proceeding, a decision his lawyers at the time called “a gesture of suicide.” The jury voted for the death penalty.
Lucy Wilke, the Kerr County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Mr. Wood, did not return calls from a reporter. After Mr. Wood’s trial in 1988, she said that he was “not a dummy” and that the slaying was “cold-blooded, premeditated.”
Under the Texas “law of parties,” the question of whether Mr. Wood anticipated the murder is important. People who conspire to commit a felony are all responsible for an ensuing crime, like murder, if it can be shown they should have known it would happen.
The United States Supreme Court has upheld the principle, ruling in 1987 that the Constitution does not forbid the death penalty for a defendant “whose participation in a felony that results in murder is major and whose mental state is one of reckless indifference.”
At least seven people have been executed in the United States since 1985 for being accomplices in crimes during which one of their partners committed murder, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three of those were executed in Texas.
David R. Dow, a law professor in Houston who oversees the Texas Defenders Project, which is trying to forestall the execution, said he doubted Mr. Wood was mentally competent to stand trial, much less that he knew in advance the murder would happen. In addition, Mr. Dow said, he did not receive proper legal representation during the sentencing phase.
“This case has in it virtually every feature that makes the death penalty system in Texas so scandalous,” he said.
HUNTSVILLE, Texas — The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday rejected a clemency request for condemned inmate Jeffery Wood, moving him a step closer to execution this week.
The board voted 7-0 to not recommend Gov. Rick Perry commute Wood's death sentence.
Wood is set to die Thursday for the 1996 death of Kriss Keeran, a clerk at a convenience store in Kerrville. Wood's lawyers don't dispute he deserves punishment but argue he doesn't deserve to die for a murder that occurred while he was waiting in a car outside the store.
Daniel Reneau, the gunman, already has been executed.
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.
"We're just very disappointed," said Scott Sullivan, one of Wood's lawyers.
Wood would be the ninth condemned prisoner put to death this year and the fifth this month in the nation's busiest capital punishment state. At least a dozen other Texas inmates have execution dates in the coming months.
Wood also lost an appeal in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday. Sullivan had sought permission to hire mental health experts to pursue arguments that Wood is incompetent to be executed. He said the appeals would be taken to the federal courts.
Wood's case was being compared to another convicted Texas killer, Kenneth Foster, who a year ago 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 — executed in 2002 — were tried separately.
"I just don't understand how we're not more like Foster," Sullivan said.
Reneau and Wood were roommates and knew Keeran, 31. Wood's involvement was the result of what his lawyers argued was a "longstanding mental illness that allowed him to be easily manipulated" by Reneau, who they called "the principal actor."
Lucy Wilke, the Kerr County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Wood, described Wood after his 1998 trial as "not a dummy" and called the slaying "cold-blooded, premeditated." She was in trial Tuesday and unavailable, the district attorney's office said. District Attorney Bruce Curry did not return a telephone call from The Associated Press.
Wood initially was found by a jury to be mentally incompetent to stand trial. After a brief stint at a state hospital, a second jury found him competent. After he was found guilty, 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 and called no witnesses on his behalf and declined to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.
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.
Monday, August 18, 2008
On August 21, Texas will execute Jeff Wood for the murder of Kris Keeran, even though there is a consensus that Wood did not murder, intend to murder, or know that a murder was going to take place. Wood was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties, section 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code, which holds co-defendants criminally responsible for the same crime if they acted as conspirators. Put another way, the Law of Parties allows for guilt-by-association. In Wood’s case, he was forced to drive a getaway vehicle after the actual killer, Daniel Reneau, shot Keeran during a convenience store robbery in 1996. In fact, Wood was not even in the building when the killing occurred. Furthermore, Bill Bunker, the store’s assistant manager who helped plot and even encouraged the robbery, was never charged with any crime.
Reneau was executed in 2002, and Keeran’s father has asked that Wood’s sentence be commuted. This week, Jeff’s family and friends, activists, and media from around the world are calling on Governor Perry to spare his life. Perry set a precedent for this last summer when he commuted the sentence of Kenneth Foster, who received the death penalty under similar circumstances. If he is to be consistent, Perry must grant Wood clemency as well. He needs to show the world that he has a conscience, especially after what happened earlier this month, when he went ahead with the executions of two foreign nationals who had been denied consular assistance, a right enshrined in the 1963 Vienna Convention.
But even if Wood’s sentence is commuted, his example raises hard questions about the Law of Parties, indeed about capital punishment itself. The statute is clearly being used in an unjust and abusive manner when bit players pay the ultimate price. It is time to demand that our state’s legislators correct this monstrous injustice.
The examples of Kenneth Foster and Jeff Wood are not flukes in an otherwise fair system, though. Foster and Wood represent the sad tale of most death row inmates: indigence and poverty, inadequate representation, withheld testimony, forced confessions, and so on. Even if capital punishment were fair, its overall application reeks of bias and flaws, especially in Texas, which leads the nation in executions. Furthermore, the death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime, and study after study has shown that it actually costs taxpayers more money than life in prison without possibility of parole, after court fees and prison time are factored in.
An anti-death penalty sentiment is gripping the nation. Currently, this is due mainly to the fact that more and more Americans realize there are serious problems when it comes to meting out the ultimate punishment. However, the problem ultimately rests in the very fact that states have been given the right to kill people, not in any particular flaws with the death penalty’s application.
The use of violence, force, or coercion by the state demands a high burden of proof. In this case, it falls on the state to show that the death penalty can be justified only in terms of what is necessary to guarantee the population’s safety or survival. The right to kill people, in other words, is such a powerful concession to the state that it cannot be justified intrinsically. As it happens, there are viable alternatives to the death penalty that also prevent murderers from being released into the general population: namely, life in prison without parole. There is no reason to execute people in the name of protecting others.
It is time that we enter the 21st century—nay, the 20th century—by abolishing capital punishment now and forever. Start by helping to save Jeff Wood this week, but do not let it end there.
DC Tedrow is a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. For more information, please visit the Save Jeff Wood website.