Wednesday, August 20, 2008

COM: Kerrville murder in national news

Kerrville, bizarre murder capitol of the world makes national news again, although this was more of your everyday kind of murder, it still puts us in the spotlight. Of course, as far as i'm concerned, Texas does its fair share of murder, and this will just chalk up another.

Texas Panel Won't Halt Execution of Accomplice
Jeff Wood, Getaway Driver in Robbery That Led to Murder, Is Scheduled to Be Executed Thursday
By SCOTT MICHELS, AP, Aug. 20, 2008

The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole has unanimously rejected a clemency petition from a man who is set to be executed for the murder of a store clerk, even though he was sitting in a truck outside the store when the murder happened.

The decision means Jeff Wood will be executed Thursday, unless Texas Gov. Rick Perry grants him a 30-day reprieve or a judge issues a stay.

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 robbery.

But Wood did not kill Keeran. Danny Reneau, Wood's former roommate, was convicted of shooting Keeran between the eyes during the robbery on Jan. 2, 1996. Reneau was executed in 2002.

Wood was convicted under a Texas law known as the law of parties, which makes him equally responsible for crimes committed by accomplices that "should have been anticipated" during the course of the robbery, even if he did not commit the crimes.

Although most states have similar laws, often called felony murder statutes, defendants are rarely executed unless they have actually killed someone. There have been at least seven such executions, excluding murder-for-hire cases, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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 -- only after Reneau forced him to do so at gunpoint, he claimed.

Kerr County Assistant District Attorney Lucy Wilke, in a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, called Wood "the mastermind of this senseless murder," noting that Wood told his brother, who was not implicated, to destroy the surveillance tape after watching it together, according to the San Antonio Express.

After initially denying involvement in the robbery, Wood admitted in a statement to police that he knew Reneau was going to rob the gas station, that Reneau planned to bring a gun and might use it if Keeran didn't cooperate, according to court opinions.

Wood's family says the statement was coerced and point to testimony from a witness at Reneau's trial who said that Wood didn't know Reneau was bringing a gun. That testimony was not admitted at Wood's trial.

His wife and father say Wood, who was initially found mentally incompetent to stand trial, is eager to please and has trouble understanding information. After spending several weeks in a mental hospital, Wood was found competent to stand trial.

"He had a very strong need to be accepted," his wife, Kristin, said. "He very easily went along with whoever wanted to accept him. That's why he ended up in bad company."

On Tuesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal rejected a motion to have Wood's mental competency evaluated.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a person may be executed for a murder he or she did not commit or intend to commit if he or she were a "major participant" in the crime or acted with "reckless indifference to the value of human life."

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," Owen said. "There are serious questions about whether a getaway driver who might have anticipated that a death would take place should be death penalty eligible."

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