Thursday, July 21, 2016

Hedayati: In Texas death row case, punishment does not fit crime

By Hooman Hedayati - Special to the American-Statesman

Jeff Wood has an appointment he hopes to miss.

On Aug. 24, 2016, at about 6 p.m., the Texas Department of Criminal Justice plans to inject a lethal dose of pentobarbital into Jeff’s veins to stop his heart as punishment for the 1996 murder of Kris Keeran.

What makes this execution controversial is that everyone, including law enforcement and the prosecution, agrees that Wood, the driver of the getaway car, did not kill Kris Keeran inside a Kerrville convenient store on the morning of January 2, 1996. In fact, Daniel Reneau, the actual and sole killer of Keeran, was executed for his crime on June 13, 2002.

Wood was convicted and sentenced to die under Texas’ arcane felony-murder law, more commonly known as the “the law of parties” — for his role as an accomplice to a killing, which he had no reason to anticipate. Under the law of parties, those who conspire to commit a felony, like a robbery, can be held responsible for a subsequent crime, like murder, if it “should have been anticipated.” The law does not require a finding that the person intended to kill. It only requires that the defendant, charged under the law of parties, was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life. In other words, neglecting to anticipate another actor’s commission of murder in the course of a felony is all that is required to make a Texas defendant death-eligible.

Texas is not the only state that holds co-conspirators responsible for one another’s criminal acts. However, it is one of few states that applies the death sentence to them. There have been only 10 people in the U.S. executed under the law of parties — and five of those 10 executions were in Texas. The last such execution was in 2009, where the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP) recommended, with a 5-2 vote, that Robert Thompson’s death sentence be commuted to life. Rick Perry rejected that vote and allowed the execution to proceed. Thompson was executed, even though it was his co-defendant, Sammy Butler, who actually killed the victim. Butler was given a life sentence.
When the convenient store robbery took place, Wood was sitting in a car outside, under the impression that Reneau was going into the store to get “road drinks and munchies.” Although it is true that Wood and Reneau had talked about robbing the store at the behest of the manager, Wood had backed out of the idea. Wood had no idea Reneau was carrying a gun and was going to attempt to rob the store. Wood also claims he was forced to drive Reneau away from the crime scene at gunpoint. Wood’s actions before the murder, namely sitting in a car unarmed and unaware that another person was going to commit a robbery, does not constitute reckless indifference to human life.

Even many supporters of capital punishment agree that the Texas law of parties is wholly unfair. In 2009, the Texas Moratorium Network and Wood’s family led an advocacy campaign to end the death penalty for people convicted under the law of parties. The Republican-controlled Texas House overwhelmingly voted in favor of the bill. Unfortunately, the bill died in the Senate after Gov. Perry threatened to veto it. Last year, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence voted again in favor of a bill to exclude the death penalty as punishment in law of parties cases. However, the session ended without an opportunity for a floor vote.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles should recommend that the governor commute Wood’s death sentence to life in prison or a lesser term consistent with Wood’s level of participation in the crime. They have made that recommendation in similar cases, including those of Kenneth Foster in 2007 and Robert Thompson in 2009.

Wood might deserve punishment for driving away from the crime scene, but he does not deserve to die. He has never taken a human life with his own hands.

Hedayati is an attorney and a member of the Texas Moratorium Network Board of Directors. For more information visit:

Help Texas Man Set for Execution Under Law of Parties – Jeff Wood Did Not Kill Anyone

terribeenJeff Wood is scheduled for execution in Texas on August 24, 2016 under the law of parties even though he did not kill anyone. We need to persuade the Texas governor and members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Jeff’s death sentence. I have known Jeff’s family for many years. His sister Terri Been is leading the effort to #savejeffwood. She has testified to the Texas Legislature to ban executions under the Law of Parties and spoken out many times to save her brother from an unjust execution.
We created a petition to David G. GutiĆ©rrez, Chair, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Greg Abbott, which says:
“We are petitioning to save Jeff Wood from unjustly being put to death by the state of Texas on August 24, 2016 for a murder he did not commit. Jeff was charged under the controversial Law of Parties. He was not the shooter in this crime, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. This unjust law states that even though a co-defendant may not have killed anyone, he can still face the death penalty, because of the actions of another person.
The actual shooter in this case, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the state of Texas.”
Four things to do:
1) Will you sign our petition? Click here to add your name.
 2) You can also donate to the clemency campaign. We have about two months to move the public, the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles and we need about $1,000 for the clemency campaign.
3) Attend the rally July 23 at the Texas Governor’s Mansion in Austin.
4) Write a clemency letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and to Governor Greg Abbott. Send the letters separately to each of their addresses.
David GutiƩrrez, Presiding Officer Board of Pardons and Paroles, Executive Clemency Section 8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757
Governor Gregg Abbott, Office of the Governor, P.O. Box 12428, Austin, Texas 78711-2428
On July 23, we will hold a rally at the Texas Governor’s Mansion.
In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted under the law of parties. The bill died in the Senate. It will be introduced again in the next legislative session in January 2017.
Jeff’s case is similar to Kenneth Foster’s, whose death sentence was commuted in 2007 by Governor Rick Perry after many people wrote clemency letters and more than 17,000 people signed a petition urging Perry to commute the death sentence, since Foster had not killed anyone. He was sentenced under the law of parties.
There have been only ten executions in the U.S. of people convicted under law of parties statutes. Five of those people were executed in Texas.
Terri Been wrote on Facebook:
I humbly ask you to help my family by taking a few minutes of your time to read a few facts regarding Jeff’s case and to sign his petition that we will be sending the governor! While you are on Jeff’s Web Page, I also ask that you take an extra minute or two to look at the other information we have in the how you can help section. For those of you who are familiar with Kenneth Foster’s case (which is very similar to Jeff’s case) it took their family over 17,000 messages to the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to get his sentence commuted to Life. This was accomplished by sending petitions, faxes, letters, and by making phone calls. I am eternally grateful for every single signature, but I need more. I need calls, letters and faxes to go along with the petition signatures.
I humbly ask that you help my family. Jeff is my baby brother and he did not kill anybody! Please ask yourselves what you would do if you were in my situation. What lengths would you go to if this was your family member?
Short case summary: At approximately 6:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, 1996, while Wood waited outside, Reneau entered the gas station with a gun and pointed it at Kris Keeran, the clerk standing behind the counter. Reneau ordered him to a back room. When he did not move quickly enough, Reneau fired one shot with a 22 caliber handgun that struck Keeran between the eyes. Death was almost instantaneous. Proceeding with the robbery, Reneau went into the back office and took a safe. When hearing the shot, Wood got out of the car to see what was going on. He walked by the door and looked through the glass. Then he went inside, and he looked over the counter and ran to the back, where Reneau was. Wood was then ordered, at gun point by Reneau, to get the surveillance video and to drive the getaway-car.
Sign the petition, please.
Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137 (1987), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court applied the proportionality principle to conclude that the death penalty was an appropriate punishment for a felony murderer who was a major participant in the underlying felony and exhibited a reckless indifference to human life.
If it goes to the Court again in the Wood case, they should be asked to find that enough change has occurred in public opinion since 1987 that there is now a national consensus that the death penalty should be banned in law of parties cases.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

TX executes mentally ill man for murder of officer

Good article by a Sam Houston State University student for the college paper about Adam Ward, a mentally ill man, who was executed last night. Thankfully he wouldn't allow his parents, Nancy and Ralph Ward, to witness the execution as they were having a very difficult time with losing their only son. Two Abolition Movement members who had known them for many years, Angie and Gloria, met them afterward and offered condolences at the local church where the funeral home takes the body so family and friends can say good-bye. Kathy Cox, a former Salvation Army minister, witnessed he execution, as she had known the Wards and visited their son for many years and was staying with them in Huntsville. His mom, Nancy, collapsed several times as she wailed and touched her son's warm yet lifeless body. It was such an emotional, yet needless scene--another reason for the end of the death penalty.

The Houstonian


TX executes mentally ill man for murder of officer

Despite arguments that he was ineligible for the death penalty due to his severe mental illness, Tuesday night the state of Texas executed Adam Ward for the 2005 murder of a code enforcement officer.

Ward insists he was defending himself when he fatally shot code enforcement officer Michael Walker, who was taking photos of possible code violations outside the Ward family home in Commerce, about 65 miles north of Dallas.

Ward, 33, was put to death by lethal injection March 22 at the Huntsville Unit, just one street block away from the Sam Houston State University campus. Outside the nation’s most active execution chamber, 15 to 20 protestors stood holding signs opposing capital punishment and held public prayers.

Danielle Allen of Cleveland, TX is also a code enforcement officer and was outside protesting the execution, despite the death of another officer.

“The man’s obviously mentally ill,” Allen said. “He’s delusional. I understand we’re government officers and that makes his murder a Capital offense, but how can we put this boy to death? Why does it have to be the death penalty and not life in prison? What’s more killing going to solve?”

Ward is the ninth person executed this year and the fifth inmate executed in Texas; 535 inmates have been executed in Texas since 1976.

Walker, 44, began taking pictures of the Ward’s family home to document code violations resulting from the piles of junk outside the house which led to an argument between Walker and Ward, then 22.

Ward intervened and told Walker to leave the property. Walker waited nearby after calling for assistance, but he was unaware that Ward had gone inside the house to grab his gun.

Walker died after sustaining nine gunshot wounds from Ward’s .45 caliber pistol. Ward confessed to the murder soon after, stating that he shot Walker because he feared for his life.

Ward’s parents were not present at the execution at the request of Ward who said he did not want his parents there to witness his death, according to Gloria Ruback of Houston, who stood holding an “abolish the death penalty” sign outside the prison.

“He has two parents who love and adore him,” Ruback said, who spoke with Ward’s parents last week. “All this execution is doing – just like with all of the other children Texas has murdered – is creating more victims, more pain and suffering.”

Last week, Ward’s lawyers filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court asking the high court to overturn a March 16 decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal’s denying a stay of execution for Ward.

In the appeal, his lawyers argued that Ward committed a murder because he suffered from “delusions and paranoia fed by his disabling bipolar disorder” dating back to his childhood.

“That’s one of the surest ways to avoid a death penalty is to have your client found not mentally competent or mentally sane and then they can’t execute you according to the Supreme Court,” Criminal Justice professor and capital punishment expert Dennis Longmire, Ph.D., said. “But it’s very, very rare that somebody avoids any punishment in Texas, much less the death penalty as a result of mental


Longmire said southerners tend to believe in the death penalty and make little exceptions, including mental illness.

“In Texas and the south in general, it’s just not part of the culture to recognize that somebody might be so mentally ill that they can’t be held responsible for their actions.” He said. “It’s very, very hard to get people to think about the nature of the crime or offense rather than feel it.”

From age three, Ward was prescribed psychiatric medicines to address his aggressive and destructive behavior. After spending two and a half months in a psychiatric unit when he was four-years-old, Ward was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, according to the appeal.

Ward’s mental illness continued to plague him as he began school, the appeal argued. By the time Ward was in second grade, his school had built a “Time Out Box” – a small, padded isolation room – specifically for him.

According to a neuropsychological evaluation in middle school, Ward suffered from “rage episodes,” during which he was unmanageable for an hour or more, had a low frustration toleration and a high level of insecurity and tendency to interpret incoming information as persecutory.

Court documents described Ward’s father, Ralph Ward, as a hoarder who filled the family’s home with piles of junk and an arsenal of guns and ammunitions. Both father and son suffered from shared delusions and paranoia.

The two delusional men believed the city of Commerce was out to get their family and the government was controlled by the “Illuminati.” However, court documents revealed the Ward family had in fact received numerous city code violations for junk piled inside and outside the house.

“Ward’s aggressive and antisocial behavior continued and escalated through adolescence and into adulthood, culminating in him fatally shooting Code Enforcement Officer Michael Walker on June 13, 2005,” Ward’s appeal argued.

His lawyers argued in the appeal that Ward’s mental illness is “so severe, so well-documented, and so deeply present in Mr. Ward’s entire life as to make him constitutionally ineligible for execution.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that mentally ill prisoners, generally defined as those with an IQ below 70, may still be executed if they understand they are about to be put to death and why they face punishment. According to the state’s lawyers, evidence showed Ward’s IQ was nearly 123.

“To qualify as Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity by virtue of mental disease or defect he has to either not understand the wrongfulness of what he’s doing or not be able to control himself even if he knows it’s wrong…that’s the mental illness,” Longmire said.

According to Longmire, the type of people who commit heinous crimes such that of Ward are largely the product of two factors: rage and guns.

“[They’re] in a moment of total rage and situational loss of control… he is enraged and that’s all he’s got,” he said. “So you put together the availability of guns and a general sense of rage and anger, and you’ve got a powder keg.”

According to Longmire, Ward is not the type of person who has the mental capacity to commit premeditated murder.
“In order for someone to able to stop and deliberately say ‘I am going to kill someone’ and do it with pleasure and a sense of purpose, you’ve got to work for the State of Texas and you’ve got to be on the execution team because that’s what they do,” he said.