Federal Judge Orlando Garcia Grants Jeff Wood a Stay of Execution

In a 20-page decision you can read here, Federal Judge Orlando Garcia granted Jeff Wood a Stay of Execution, putting of a death sentence that was to have been carried out yesterday.  Judge Garcia called the death penalty system in the State of Texas “insane” in his decision:

With all due respect, a system which requires an insane person to make “substantial showing” of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain assistance is, by definition, an insane system.

It is inconsistent with the mandates of both Panetti and Ford for the state of Texas to deny an indigent death row inmate asserting a claim that he is incompetent to be executed the assistance of counsel until said inmate first satisfies arcane pleadings requirements so intellectually challenging they test the skill of even the most seasoned attorney

The Texas Moratorium Network is posting a piece from the Houston Chronicle reporting that Wood’s lawyers will have to submit an evaluation on his mental state from mental health experts by January 2009.  Truly distrubing are the comments to the article on the Chronicle website.  They spout the usual misinformation about the death penalty being a deterent (it can’t be or no one would commit capital crimes, but capital crimes are not commited by rational thinking people therefore the deterent effect is useless).  Most striking however is the example of what type of society we create when we approve of state sponsored killing. When we approve of killing, which we exemplify by executions, it manifests itself in the attitudes demonstrated by the commentators to the Chronicle’s article.  There is little or no understanding or sympathy for the nuance of the Wood case, there is pride in the fact that Texas has (as a minority commenter put it) death penalty by association under the Law of Parties and executes a lot of people.

A few people have asked me why I am so interested in this case and in capital punishment.  That’s a fair question.  My interest began while doing my college internship for Amnesty International.  One of the events I worked on was the first national student (high school and college) conference on the aboltion of the death of penalty.  This was held at Northeastern University in November of 1989.  Participants included Sister Helen Prejean most widely known for her story and work with death row inmates Dead Man Walking, Clive Stafford Smith, and Hugo Adam Bedau.

The death penalty is lowest common denominator.  It uses to killing to say killing or other violent crime is wrong.  The old childhood proverb is correct, however, two wrongs don’t make a right.

The death penalty is throwing our hands up in the air as a society and saying we give up, there is nothing we can do, but execute people we don’t like (because they are bad).  In essence this is what Hitler did.  We dehumanize criminals, Nazis dehumanized innocents, but once a society allows dehumanization, the process expands, it doesn’t contract.  Notice how our society now dehumanizes terrorists and by extention, anyone who “looks like” a terrorist?

There is no way to have a fool-proof death penalty system and too many innocent people are executed. It got so bad in Illinois, that in 2000 a Republican governor put a moratorium on executions129 known and proven innocent people have been released from death row since 1973.

David Chandler at Progressive Writers Bloc brings up some of my favorite points in interesting ways:

The geography of executions is telling. The densely populated Northeast (more people, more crime?) has the lowest murder rate nationally and has executed only 3 people since 1976. The Western states have executed 59, the Midwest 96, and the South 735. Texas and Virginia alone account for 406 of the South’s total. The states in which a black man was most likely to be lynched in past decades are the states that execute the most black men today.

Hand in hand with racial discrimination is economic discrimination. In California in the 1980’s, 42% of blue-collar workers convicted of first-degree murder received the death penalty, compared to only 5% of white-collar workers convicted of similar crimes. Most defendants in capital cases cannot afford to hire their own attorney. This is clearly tied to the high rate of error in convictions.

The reason that is closest to my heart for opposing the death penalty is that it is about retribution, not restoration.  Currently our criminal justice system is one based solely on handing out punishment, but punishing wrong doing does not always make whole.  Making whole requires restoration.  I’m not sure that there is a way to make completely whole victims of violent crime, but I am certain it needs to go beyond just punishing the criminal.  It must involve forgiveness, making amends, creating a system and a society that is better at recognizing and caring for pain and suffering and I don’t see our current system, however full of bravado or however strong it may appear to execute someone, doing that.

Again, David Chandler,

The death penalty is based on the concept of retribution: “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life.” Retribution is not about protecting society. That is accomplished once the criminal is imprisoned. Rather, it is a way of collectively venting our anger. When we have been wronged we have an urge to strike back and make the offender suffer. When someone is murdered we feel we owe it to the family of the victim to avenge the death of their loved one. But vengeance cannot reverse the original act or heal the pain. Instead it arouses and legitimizes our own murderous impulses. Vengeance does violence to the soul and perpetuates violence in society.

Retribution is Biblical, but so is its antithesis. When Jesus was asked whether a woman taken in adultery should be stoned to death in accordance with the Mosaic law, he responded simply, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone….” By his response he rejects the entire concept of retribution. All of us, both accusers and accused, are flawed human beings, so mercy, not retribution, is appropriate. Jesus changes the focus to restoration and healing.

Executing people is enacting revenge on a societal scale.  There isn’t a person among us who wouldn’t feel some pull for revenge if she or he were the victim of violent crime, but that doesn’t mean it is the best response.  Most of the rest of world has given up on this, frankly, barbaric practice of executing other human beings.  The leading executing countries in the world are China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia … and the United States. Iraq used to be in there, too.  What wonderful company to be keeping. Not an open, caring democracy among them.

[The death penalty] is hurtful to us and it diminishes us. We become more and more desensitized. Where do we stop? How do we decide who lives and who dies? We have put ourselves on a very slippery slope.

– Bishop Edmond Carmody of Texas

The majority of those on death row are poor, powerless, and educationally deprived. Almost 50 percent come from minority groups. This reflects the broad inequities within our society, and the inequity with which the ultimate is applied. This alone is sufficient reason for opposing [the death penalty] as immoral and unjust.

— General Board of the American Baptist Churches, Resolution on Capital Punishment, passed June 1977.

[Capital punishment is a] cruel hoax that is sold to the families of victims. They are so vulnerable, the easiest thing to sell them is anger. It’s the biggest disservice we can do to them.

— Rabbi Alan Lew, Spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. … In fact, violence merely increases hate. … Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Make your way to death row and speak with the tragic victims of criminality. As they prepare to make their pathetic walk to the electric chair, their hopeless cry is that society will not forgive. Capital punishment is society’s final assertion that it will not forgive.

I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime – rape and murder included. Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.

I should be on the front line for those advocating the death penalty, [but] we have always been consistently against the death penalty.
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., pastor, pivotal figure in the Civil Rights Movement.

I oppose the death penalty as I oppose all murder, as I oppose the imposition of suffering on all beings through the action of the individual, group, or state. My opposition is based on simply my own choice. It does not rely on any scriptural command of my tradition, any dogma, any external coercion or any commandment from above. My opposition is my responsibility, it is my “ability-to-respond.” Who I am is who I choose to be, consciously and deliberately — I am not who I am told to be. I choose for myself to adhere the First Precept of Buddhism that goes something like this: “I am reverential and mindful of all life, I am not violent and I do not kill”.
— Venerable Kobutsu Malone, zenji – American Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest, volunteer death row chaplain and social justice activist.

I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty. I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a country that’s so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty an obscenity.»«I am passionately opposed to the death penalty for anyone … I think, myself, that it is an obscenity … that brutalizes society.

— Desmond Tutu, South African Archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner, about the death penalty in the U.S.A.

4 thoughts on “Federal Judge Orlando Garcia Grants Jeff Wood a Stay of Execution

  1. Virtually everything in your comment can be contradicted. If you would like me to do so, I will.

    But, for now:

    Jeff Wood: Robbery/murder and the law of parties
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

    “After initially denying involvement in the robbery, (Jeff) 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 (Kriss) Keeran didn’t cooperate, according to court opinions.” (1)

    “Evidence showed the pair had planned the robbery for a couple of weeks and unsuccessfully tried recruiting Keeran (a “friend” of Wood and Reneau) and another employee to stage a phony robbery.” (2)

    In other words, both Wood and Reneau had planned to murder Keeran, long before the robbery. Keeran knew both Wood and Reneau. Their failure to recruit Keeran into the robbery meant that they would have to murder Keeran if they decided to go through with it. They did.

    What does armed robbery mean? Normally, it means :”I’ve got a gun. If you don’t do what I say, I’ll kill you.” In this case, it meant that Keeran would be murdered. Period.

    “Lucy Wilke, the Kerr County assistant district attorney, who prosecuted Wood, described Wood after his 1998 trial as “not a dummy” and called the slaying “cold-blooded, premeditated.”(2) “(She) 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.” (1)

    Evidence showed Reneau entered the store before dawn on Jan. 2, 1996, and fatally shot Keeran once in the face with a .22-caliber pistol. Then joined by Wood, they robbed the store of more than $11,000 in cash and checks. Both were arrested within 24 hours. (2)

    “According to court records, Wood was waiting outside the store and came in after Keeran was shot, then both fled with the store safe, a cash box and a video recorder containing a security tape showing the robbery and slaying. “(2)

    “Wood’s lawyers don’t dispute he deserves punishment but argue he doesn’t deserve to die for a murder that occurred while he was waiting in a car outside the store.” (2)

    He deserved punishment? Why? Because Wood planned and helped to carry out the robbery/murder, making him culpable for the robbery/murder and, thus, justly sentenced to death.

    The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 to not recommend Gov. Rick Perry commute Wood’s death sentence. (2) For good reasons.

    For those that wrongly complain about the law of parties:

    “What do you think is going to happen when a guy goes into a convenience store to rob it and he’s armed with a gun, and your job is to help him commit that crime?” said Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “It’s a very high-risk activity.”(3)

    Put another way, don’t commit an armed robbery when you know your going to have to murder the victim because he knows the two parties robbing him.

    Better yet, don’t commit armed robbery, at all. You might end up on death row.

    There are many ‘non-triggerman” murders that most, if not all, of us, would find equally as culpable, both legally and morally, as the triggerman, such as the person who hires a hit man to murder someone or a case such as Osama Bin Laden’s, where he was thousands of miles away from the murder scenes, all over the world.

    Texas Law of Parties: A person is criminally responsible for an offense committed by
    the conduct of another if 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 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. (4)

    (1) “Texas Panel Won’t Halt Execution of Accomplice”, by Scott Michels, ABC News, Aug. 20, 2008

    (2) “Death date nears for accomplice in Hill Country murder”, by Michael Graczyk, By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Aug. 19, 2008, 4:41PMhttp://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5953000.html

    (3) Should murder accomplices face execution? By John Gramlich, Stateline.org, August 13, 2008


    copyright 2008 Dudley Sharp : Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites


    yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Dudley.

    By contradict, if you mean assert the opposite of, you are correct as one can assert the opposite of anything and on this issue people assert the opposite opinions very strongly as do you and I it seems.

    As for Justice, classically defined, it means giving each their due. I will continue to hold that capital punishment is inherently unjust as there is nothing a human being can do that deserves forfeiting their live. It is the reason we want murders and other terrible criminals punished so severely. Yet there are more people involved in the equation than the criminal, there are victims, society, and no one is given there due by continuing the violence and the killing. It doesn’t create the beloved community.

    The death penalty is not a deterrent. It is applied disproportionately to the poor and to people of color and ultimately it sanctions the crime (murder) which it is most used to punish.

    A sane, civil society doesn’t use it. We will have to agree to disagree.

  3. on deterrence

    Death Penalty Deterrence? Yes, of course.
    Dudley Sharp, contact info below

    Of course the death penalty deters. All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a trusim.

    23 (4 more on the way) recent deterrence studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation,

    “Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock”

    “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”

    “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”

  4. Rev. Tony:

    Just re found this.

    Please review:

    There is, quite often, a distinct difference between biblical studies and/or theology and what various denominations may state.

    Death penalty support, as expressed by Christian denominational writings, was near universal, prior to the 20th century. In fact, it was overwhelming. One might ask, did the bible change that much when the calendar stuck 1900?

    One really has to work at, wrongly, finding contradicitons to death penalty support within biblically based teachings.

    — God/Jesus: ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother must certainly be put to death.’ Matthew 15:4

    This is a New Testament command, which references several of the same commands from God, in the same circumstance, from the OT.

    — Genesis 9:5-6, from the 1764 Quaker Bible, the only Quaker bible.

    5 And I will certainly require the Blood of your Lives, and that from the Paw of any Beast: from the Hand likewise of Man, even of any one’s Brother, will I require the Life of a Man.

    6 He that sheds Man’s Blood, shall have his own shed by Man; because in the Likeness of God he made Mankind.

    Of all the versions/translations, this may be the most unequivocal

    — St. Augustine: “The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, for the representative of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to the Law or the rule of rational justice.” The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 21

    — Saint (& Pope) Pius V, “The just use of (executions), far from involving the crime of murder, is an act of paramount obedience to this (Fifth) Commandment which prohibits murder.” “The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent” (1566).

    — “All interpretations, contrary to the biblical support of capital punishment, are false. Interpreters ought to listen to the Bible’s own agenda, rather than to squeeze from it implications for their own agenda. As the ancient rabbis taught, “Do not seek to be more righteous than your Creator.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33.). Part of Synopsis of Professor Lloyd R. Bailey’s book Capital Punishment: What the Bible Says, Abingdon Press, 1987.

    — Pope Pius XII: “When it is a question of the execution of a man condemned to death it is then reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned of the benefit of life, in expiation of his fault, when already, by his fault, he has dispossessed himself of the right to live.” 9/14/52.

    — Quaker biblical scholar Dr. Gervas A. Carey agrees with Saints Augustine and Aquinas, that executions represent mercy to the wrongdoer: “. . . a secondary measure of the love of God may be said to appear. For capital punishment provides the murderer with incentive to repentance which the ordinary man does not have, that is a definite date on which he is to meet his God. It is as if God thus providentially granted him a special inducement to repentance out of consideration of the enormity of his crime . . . the law grants to the condemned an opportunity which he did not grant to his victim, the opportunity to prepare to meet his God. Even divine justice here may be said to be tempered with mercy.” (p. 116). ” . . . the decree of Genesis 9:5-6 is equally enduring and cannot be separated from the other pledges and instructions of its immediate context, Genesis 8:20-9:17; . . . that is true unless specific Biblical authority can be cited for the deletion, of which there appears to be none. It seems strange that any opponents of capital punishment who professes to recognize the authority of the Bible either overlook or disregard the divine decree in this covenant with Noah; . . . capital punishment should be recognized . . . as the divinely instituted penalty for murder; The basis of this decree . . . is as enduring as God; . . . murder not only deprives a man of a portion of his earthly life . . . it is a further sin against him as a creature made in the image of God and against God Himself whose image the murderer does not respect.” (p. 111-113) Essays on the Death Penalty, T. Robert Ingram, ed., St. Thomas Press, Houston, 1963, 1992

    — St. Thomas Aquinas finds all biblical interpretations against executions “frivolous”, citing Exodus 22:18, “wrongdoers thou shalt not suffer to live”. Unequivocally, he states,” The civil rulers execute, justly and sinlessly, pestiferous men in order to protect the peace of the state.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 146

    — Jesus: Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Jesus) replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

    It is not the nature of our deaths, but the state of salvation at the time of death which is most important.

    — God: “You shall not accept indemnity in place of the life of a murderer who deserves the death penalty; he must be put to death.” Numbers 35:31 (NAB) full context http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/numbers/numbers35.htm

    For murder, there is no mitigation from a death sentence.

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