In Texas, the Law of Parties Puts a Non-Murderer on Death Row

In Texas, a legal concept known as the Law of Parties allows anyone who aids in a felony to be held criminally liable for that offense—even if that person is not the one who ultimately does the deed or pulls the trigger.

Jeffrey Lee Wood is scheduled to be executed in August 2016 for a murder he didn’t commit, and according to the evidence at his trial, he was not even aware was happening at the time it took place.

A Non-Murderer Gets Placed on Death Row for a Murder He Didn’t Commit

There is no question that Wood was involved in at least part of the original crime. According to the record of trial, Wood was sitting outside a convenience store in a pick-up truck while his friend and co-conspirator, Daniel Reneau, allegedly went inside to buy food and drinks. Once inside the store, Reneau shot and killed the store clerk, beginning a series of events that would lead to his own execution and place Wood on death row.

Wood’s supporters agree that Wood is not completely innocent, though they claim he wasn’t aware of Reneau’s plans to commit murder. Originally, the robbery scheme Wood had become involved in called for Reneau, Wood, and a store employee to steal a safe containing thousands of dollars. Allegedly, the store employee and Wood backed out of the robbery plan completely–but Reneau stayed the course and eventually carried out the unplanned murder of his own accord.

According to Wood’s then-girlfriend, Wood had specifically asked Reneau not to bring his gun during the trip to the convenience store—but Reneau had done so anyway, without Wood’s knowledge or consent. Wood’s attorney says that his client couldn’t have known that the murder would take place, and that he shouldn’t be held directly responsible for Reneau’s criminal acts.

Reneau and Wood were both convicted of capital murder, and Mr. Reneau was executed in 2002. In a recent development, Wood’s execution was stayed on 19 August 2016 pending resolution of his writ of habeas corpus by the trial court.

The Controversial Texas Law of Parties Punishes for Affiliation, Not Action

The Law of Parties is controversial, especially in Wood’s case, as he wasn’t present in the building at the time of the murder. Supporters are calling for the governor to call off the execution and commute Wood’s sentence in part because he doesn’t have a violent history, and he was allegedly not mentally competent at the time of the crime or during his trial.

The lack of distinction in culpability or guilt between accomplice and perpetrator is partly what makes the Texas law of parties so hotly debated. Under modern ethical standards, most citizens assume that the death penalty is reserved only for the “worst of the worst” classification of criminals. The Texas law of parties does not, as it currently stands, reserve a higher level of punishment for the actual actor or principal of a crime.

Legal experts, religious authorities, and Texas politicians alike take issue with the arbitrary nature of the capital punishment in Wood’s case, citing that it is extremely rare under modern ethical standards for someone with as little culpability as Wood to be subject to the death penalty.

Post-Conviction Remedies Can Help with Unfair Sentencing

Post-conviction remedies exist for this sort of injustice, and the timely filing of a post-conviction habeas writ is the only reason Jeff Wood was granted reconsideration and a stay of execution in August 2016. If you feel that you are being unjustly held accountable for a crime you didn’t commit, contact The Law Office of Patrick J. McLain, PLLC, and let us fight to get you back on the road to freedom.

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