Accomplice in a 1996 robbery-gone-wrong, Jeffery Wood was sentenced to death for a murder at which he was not even present. According to Texas law, which applies the “law of parties,” he ought to have been able to anticipate what was going to happen.
In the United States, the fate of Jeffery Wood, whose execution is scheduled to take place on Wednesday in Texas, is particularly upsetting. Due to a very controversial law, he will pay with his life for a murder at which he was not even present. On the morning of January 2, 1996, the young man, who had only just finished a troubled adolescence, was inside a parked car on a street in Kerrville while his friend Daniel Reneau was getting ready to rob the gas station opposite.
Reneau was supposed to seize the safe and Wood would then help him escape to the hills of the small town, which is situated between San Antonio and El Paso. But this straightforward plan went wrong when Daniel Reneau shot one of the store’s employees between the eyes. On hearing the sound of gunfire, Jeffery Wood rushed into the store and discovered the disaster. On the orders of his sidekick, he then removed the video surveillance system. The two men then ran away, taking the safe and the cash drawer with them.
The IQ of a Child
Information given to the police by witnesses helped to quickly identify the two men, and they were arrested the following day. Unfortunately for Jeffery Wood — who was 22-years-old at the time and will be 43 on Friday — the state of Texas has a law known as the “law of parties” that is as original as it is repressive. According to this law, it doesn’t matter if a suspect killed or intended to kill. The mere existence of a criminal project linked to him/her, and the foreseeable possibility that this project could result in a homicide, is enough for the suspect to receive the same punishment as the person who pulled the trigger. Several petitions have been launched to save Jeffery Wood from the law of parties.
As a result of this law, Reneau and Wood were given the ultimate penalty; the former was executed in 2002. In terms of number of executions, Texas is by far the leader of the 31 states that retain the death penalty. But even there, the death sentence of Jeffery Wood, who has the IQ of a child, stands out.
His lawyer, Kate Black, said, “I have never seen an execution in the United States with this low of a level of culpability … I think that this case is a really strong example of the problem with the law of parties…” According to her, Wood was not even aware that Reneau, whom he had known for only two months, was carrying a firearm. Others claim that he knew of the existence of this weapon but had asked Reneau not to take it before they went to the gas station. The convicted man’s defense team has, therefore, filed an appeal with the state Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. At the very least, they hope to obtain a stay of execution, postponing the lethal injection until a later date.
“I want to hold him in my arms”
As the fateful day approaches, the prisoner support committee, which centers on his family, is moving heaven and earth. In a statement, his daughter Paige wrote, “Jeffery Wood only has one child and that is me!!! … I have been deprived because of somebody else’s crime. Should I continue to be punished?” Human rights associations, such as Amnesty International, have called for the American justice system to overturn this sentence. Similarly, some 50 religious leaders have written a letter to the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbot, asking for clemency for Wood.
Ten people in the United States — including five in Texas — have already been sentenced to death for violating the law of parties. For Jeffery Wood, everything rests on these next few days, as he may well have begun the final week of his life. We will find out by Wednesday, at the latest.