Jeff Wood never killed anyone. He was an accomplice who drove a getaway car. It didn’t stop Texas scheduling his execution.
It isn’t the first time that Texas has caused an outcry over an execution and it won’t be the last.
However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted the execution of Wood by lethal injection just six weeks before he was due to die in August.
The Texas Tribune noted the court issued a two-page order. It sent the case back to the original trial court to examine a claim made by Wood that a jury was incorrectly influenced in imposing the death penalty.
If Wood’s death penalty is thrown out it will be on the grounds of the testimony of a highly criticized psychiatrist rather than a controversial law in Texas that allows accomplices to be sentenced like principals to a crime.
As Texas murder defense attorneys we are experts in the state’s Draconian approach to the most serious offenses. Texas executes more people than any other state, often in controversial circumstances.
Wood was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of a store clerk in Kerrville. He was not in the store but was sitting outside in his truck when his friend, Daniel Reneau, shot the clerk.
Lawyers acting for the 22-year-old said he was aware Reneau was carrying out a robbery but the accomplice had no idea he would end up killing the clerk. Reneau was executed for the murder in 2002.
Most U.S. states maintain a legal distinction between accomplices and those who carry out the crime. However, in Texas an accomplice who drives a getaway vehicle and is not at the murder scene can end up on death row with a murder conviction. Wood wound up on death row under the contentious “law of parties” which makes no distinction between principals and accomplices to an offense.
Role of Witness Questioned in Accomplice Sentence
The trial court will look at the role played by Dr. James Grigson in the trial. A recent Houston Chronicle report dubbed the expert witness “Dr. Death.”
The report said no other expert witness was relied on as much as Grigson in the 1980s and early 1990s. His willingness to testify against murder defendants earned him his nickname. Grigson persuaded many juries that murder defendants would routinely kill again if given the chance. His methods have since been discredited. The Chronicle report stated he didn’t even meet the defendants before giving his expert testimonies.
If you have been charged with a crime the onus of proof is with the prosecution. However, Texas has a long record of high-profile miscarriages of justice. In some circumstances it seems unfair that an accomplice can be given the same sentence as a principal.
If you have been charged over a killing it’s vital that you receive experienced Austin criminal defense counsel as soon as possible. Call us at (512) 474-4445.