Jeff Wood wins a stay

By: Liliana Segura

On Thursday, August 21, the state of Texas came perilously close to executing Jeff Wood, who was convicted in 1996 for a murder he did not commit. Wood was sentenced to die under the same Law of Parties that almost led to Kenneth Foster Jr.'s murder last summer.

Unlike in Kenneth's case, however, there was no call from Jimmy Carter or Desmond Tutu to stop the execution. There were not sweeping editorials in the Texas papers calling it a miscarriage of justice.

Yet the facts of the case--in which a man was sentenced to death for a murder committed by someone else, a murder he did not plan or foresee and which he was not even close enough to witness--were disturbingly similar.

In the same state that saw Judge Sharon "Killer" Keller wave through the country's last execution before the recent seven-month moratorium because she was unwilling to stay at the office past 5 p.m., it was a chilling reminder of how quickly a case can fall through the cracks in Texas. On August 19, Wood's 35th birthday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency by a vote of 7 to 0.

But Wood's family and lawyers never gave up. Activists in Texas and other parts of the country made sure the facts of the case got out. In the days before the scheduled execution, thousands of people called the board and the governor's office to urge them to stay Wood's execution.

In the end, it was a federal judge, revisiting the question of Wood's mental competence--one of the many glaring problems with the case--who intervened. "With all due respect," he wrote, "a system that requires an insane person to first make 'a substantial showing' of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system."

Following the stay of execution, Wood's sister, Terri Been, wrote to express her thanks for the efforts of the CEDP and others. "Our fight is not over," she said, "and I humbly ask that you continue spreading the word to your contacts in a continued effort to help! Our new petition signature goal is 20,000. People say that is a little steep, but with help from people like you, I know that goal is possible!"

To sign the petition for Jeff, go to www.savejeffwood.com.