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Britta
Re: Your Texas death machine gets rolling once again
Thu Jul 31, 2008 6:48am
75.211.89.87 (XFF: unknown)

Critics have argued that Texas' use of the law of parties unconstitutionally broadens the field of death-eligible defendants; the death penalty, they argue, should be reserved for the most culpable and most heinous crimes. In fact, Texas is the only state that uses a conspiracy statute to make defendants eligible for the death penalty. "To pass constitutional scrutiny," Wood's attorney Scott Sullivan argued on appeal, "a sentencing statute must not only narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty, it must also ensure sentencing decisions are based upon an individual inquiry" of culpability. Texas' law of parties fails to do that, he wrote. The state, however, argues that the law of parties is not implicated in a decision to impose death: "The Texas capital murder scheme does not allow an individual to be put to death merely for being a party because the law-of-parties cannot be applied in answering the special issues" that jurors must answer, argued then-Bexar Co. Assistant District Attorney Lucy Cavazos. A death sentence is assessed only if jurors find that a defendant would pose a continuing threat to society and that there is no mitigating evidence that might lessen the defendant's culpability. Yet Cavazos' argument evades the fact that without the law-of-parties, defendants like Wood wouldn't be eligible for death in the first place. The courts have sided with the state.

Wood's case is similar to that of Kenneth Foster, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood by a companion, based on the Bexar Co. district attorney's use of the conspiracy statute. Foster was scheduled to die last year but was spared when Gov. Rick Perry accepted the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Paroles and commuted his sentence to life in prison. "I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence," he said. Perry did not directly implicate the law of parties in explaining his decision but did raise the issue of culpability, saying he was "concerned" that state law allowed Foster to be tried jointly with triggerman Maurecio Brown.

Given the parallels between the Wood and Foster cases, Wood's supporters question how the state can execute Wood without further damaging the credibility of the Texas death system. (Indeed, Wood's sister, Been, argues that her brother is even less culpable of murder than was Foster.) "There will be a full package going to the governor, and I think you will see a lot of similarities between us and Foster," Sullivan said last week.

Wood's family and supporters also question whether Wood is actually competent to face execution. He was originally found incompetent to stand trial, because he could not adequately work with his attorneys and participate in his defense. During the sentencing phase, District Judge Stephen Ables ruled that Wood would not be allowed to fire his court-appointed lawyers and represent himself. Nonetheless, Wood would not allow his attorneys to present mitigating evidence – including evidence that Wood was abused as a child and had been diagnosed with serious learning disabilities. Moreover, school records show that Wood's maturity was notably retarded – school officials noted that although he looked his age, he behaved like a child, constantly sought approval for actions, and was easily led and influenced by others. The evidence further erodes Wood's culpability, Been argues. "Jeff was just dumb. He's so trusting of people and has to get burned in order to learn a lesson," she says. "He doesn't deserve to die."



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Copyright © 2008 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.
http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=653965

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