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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Rally Questions Death Penalty for Texas Man Who Didn't Pull Trigger

Jeff Wood
Jeff Wood
Supporters of Jeff Wood gathered on July 23, 2016, in front of the Governor's Mansion to rally against his scheduled August execution.

On Saturday, relatives and supporters of death row inmate Jeff Wood braved the Texas summer heat to gather outside Gov. Greg Abbott's mansion, hoping their state's leader will halt the execution and commute Wood's sentence for one reason - Wood never killed anyone.

On Jan. 2, 1996, Wood, 22 at the time, waited in a car while Daniel Reneau robbed a Kerrville convenience store and shot the clerk, Kriss Keeran, according to a clemency petition from 2008.

Wood was charged with capital murder under Texas' law of parties, which states that a person can be charged of a crime he didn't commit if he helped or "should have anticipated it as a result" of another crime, like a robbery, according to the Texas penal code. Wood was sentenced to death as was Reneau, who was executed in 2002.

Huddled under the shade of trees outside the mansion's gates in the 100-degree heat, Wood's family and about 30 other people carried signs with Wood's face on them and wore T-shirts that said "Punish action. Not affiliation."

Terri Been, Wood's sister, told the small crowd that her brother did not commit or conspire to commit murder and that he didn't even know Reneau had a gun when he entered the store.

"So I ask you, Governor Abbott, how is this justice?" Been said toward the mansion. "My brother is not a monster; he is not a killer."

A spokesman for Abbott's office didn't immediately respond to a request to comment for this article.

At Saturday's rally, Tommy Ramirez, a trial lawyer from Devine, held a sign calling to save Wood, but said he is not against the death penalty or the law of parties. The law was meant for mobsters or someone who paid to have someone killed, he said.

"In this case, we got a ... kid, with no record, hanging with the wrong people," Ramirez said. "He did not know anyone was going to be murdered."

Executions under the law of parties or similar laws in other states, are rare. The Death Penalty Information Center has confirmed only 10 cases, 5 of which were in Texas.

In 2007, then-Gov. Rick Perry changed Kenneth Foster's sentence from death to life in prison hours before his execution. Like Wood, Foster was the getaway driver in a robbery that turned to murder.

But 2 years later, Perry refused to halt the execution of Robert Thompson in a similar case after the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended clemency, according to the Houston Chronicle. The triggerman in that murder received life, not death.

Jeff Wood was originally scheduled to be executed in 2008, but the execution was stayed by a federal district court, according to court documents. He has been on death row for more than 18 years.

A petition asking the governor and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stay the execution and commute Wood's sentence will be sent early next month, according to Scott Cobb of Texas Moratorium Network.

With sweat on their brows, Wood's supporters hoped Abbott would hear their cries from his gate and stop his execution, scheduled for Aug. 24.

"We do not want Jeff Wood to be executed. Not on the 24th, not ever!" said Gloria Rubac, an anti-death penalty activist. "We got a stay for Jeff [before], and we're gonna do it again!"

Source: Texas Tribune, July 24, 2016

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning