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California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

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California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Death date nears for accomplice in Hill Country murder

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 set for later 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 5th this month in the nation's busiest capital punishment state. At least a dozen other Texas inmates have execution dates in the coming months.

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.

Slaying called 'cold-blooded'

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.

Source: Associated Press

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