Jeff Wood never killed anyone. But on January 2, 1996, his friend, Daniel Reneau, did. Because Jeff was assisting in the commission of another crime, he has been sitting on death row. His upcoming execution is another example of how Texas takes criminal justice too far.
According to court documents, Wood was sitting in his truck outside of a gas station while Reneau went inside to steal a safe that was said to be full from the holiday weekend. Inside, Reneau’s attempts to steal the safe were complicated by a clerk named Kriss Keeran. When Keeran refused to just let Reneau follow through with his plans, Reneau shot him.
Reneau was sentenced to death and executed in 2002. Wood is scheduled to be executed on Aug. 24, even though he was sitting in a truck outside of the gas station and had no idea that what was supposed to be simple larceny would become a case of murder.
Unfortunately for Wood, under Texas’ “law of parties” statute, his mere presence at the crime scene makes him legally culpable for Keeran’s death:
“Sec. 7.02. CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR CONDUCT OF OTHER. (a) A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by the conduct of another if:
(1) acting with the kind of culpability required for the offense, he causes or aids an innocent or nonresponsible person to engage in conduct prohibited by the definition of the offense;
(2) acting with intent to promote or assist the commission of the offense, he solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense; or
(3) having a legal duty to prevent commission of the offense and acting with intent to promote or assist its commission, he fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent commission of the offense.
(b) If, in the attempt to carry out a conspiracy to commit one felony, another felony is committed by one of the conspirators, all conspirators are guilty of the felony actually committed, though having no intent to commit it, if the offense was committed in furtherance of the unlawful purpose and was one that should have been anticipated as a result of the carrying out of the conspiracy.”
There it is, laid out in Subsection B. Wood should have known that there was a possibility the felony to which he was party (the theft of the safe) may result in the commission of another felony, thus Wood is culpable for the murder as well.
It’s guilt by association. It’s also a tragedy in Texas’ criminal justice system and is ethically reprehensible.
Jeff Wood’s execution is hinged on the idea that he should have had the foresight to think that maybe his friend, Daniel Reneau, may end up killing somebody while attempting to steal the safe. Regardless of what you guys do, no person would just assume the possibility that their friend may be capable of doing something like that. My friends and I broke the law all the time growing up and not once did I ever think any of them were capable of murder.
But that’s just one point. The other point — the more pertinent point — is that Jeff Wood never had a gun in his hand but Texas’ idiotic criminal justice system says he might as well have. In logical terms, the only thing Jeff Wood is guilty of is conspiracy — he was in the truck, but he was in on the planning for the heist and knew it was taking place inside. He is not a murderer and he should not be treated as one just because Daniel Reneau went too far and the criminal justice system in Texas was apparently designed by six-year-olds.
But is anyone really surprised, though? Texas is infamous for its execution room practically operating like a McDonald’s drive-thru. They go fast, but sometimes they get it wrong. Just ask Cameron Todd Willingham.
Oh, wait. You can’t. He’s dead.
If the efforts by Wood’s lawyers and activists fail to get his execution at the very least postponed, Jeff Wood will be joining a distinct club of Texas inmates — people who were murdered by a state obsessed with retribution.
Featured image by Ken Piorkowski, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
h/t Raw Story