‘Law of Parties’ on trial
compiled from various sources
4WardEver UK – October 2010
Updates on this case listed at the foot of this item
Jeff Wood was sentenced to death in 1998 for his role in the murder of Kris Keeran, a gas station attendant who was killed during a 1996 armed robbery. But Wood did not actually kill Keeran. Danny Reneau, Wood’s former roommate, was convicted of shooting Keeran between the eyes during the robbery in January 1996. Reneau was executed in 2002. Wood’s case gained notoriety when family, friends and death penalty abolitionists grouped together to protest his execution.
Wood was convicted under “The Law of Parties“ statue, which states you can get the death penalty for just being present at the scene of a crime.
Wood was the getaway driver while Reneau robbed the Kerrvill, Texas, gas station where Keeran worked. Reneau shot and killed Keeran after he refused to go along with a plan to fake a robbery and split the proceeds, according to court documents.
Wood, who told police Keeran was a friend, later admitted that he came into the store after hearing the gunshot that killed Keeran, court opinions in the case say. Wood then helped Reneau take the store VCR and surveillance tapes. he claimed only after Reneau forced him to do so at gunpoint.
In August 2007 another Texas death row inmate, Kenneth Foster. was granted a commutation of sentence, and is now serving life in Texas. His case was similar to Wood’s because he too was sentenced under “The Law of Parties” and he never touched the murder weapon. Supporters of Foster generated over 17,000 calls to The Parole and Pardons, and Governor Rick Perry to protest his execution.
With only hours until his scheduled execution in 2008, federal judge granted Woods a hearing to determine whether he was mentally competent.
Mr. Wood’s lawyers argue that he is too delusional to understand why he is to die and thinks that among other things he is the victim of a Freemason conspiracy.
Judge Garcia wrote that Mr. Wood’s bizarre statements at his trial and in prison “at least arguably suggest the petitioner lacks a rational understanding of the causal link between his role in his criminal offence and the reason he has been sentenced to death.”
Wood was convicted under a Texas law known as the law of parties, which makes him equally responsible for crimes committed by his accomplices that “should have been anticipated” during the course of the robbery — even if he did not commit the crimes.
Though most states have similar laws, often called felony murder statutes, they are rarely used in death penalty cases. The last execution under a similar law was in 1996, in Oklahoma, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
There have been seven such executions, excluding murder-for-hire cases, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the center.
Texas ‘law of parties’ statute is also broader than similar laws in most other states, said Robert Owen, director of the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.
“It’s terribly risky to allow the death penalty to be imposed where the jury has to draw inferences about what was in the defendant’s mind,” said Owen. “There are serious questions about whether a getaway driver who might have anticipated that a death would take place should be death penalty eligible.”
Does a man who killed no one deserve death row?
5 September 2016
Execution halted for Jeff Wood, who never killed anyone
19 August 2016
Death row convict’s lawyers argues that he is incompetent
17 November 2010
Text of Order from Judge Orlando Garcia to Stay Execution of Jeff Wood
Published August 2008