Texas Man Who Didn't Kill May Be Executed

Jeff Wood didn't kill Kris Keeran, but he is scheduled to be executed anyway.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 5:42 PM

Aug. 8, 2008 — -- Texas is scheduled to put a man to death this month even though he never killed anyone, in what would be one of the few executions of its kind in more than 30 years.

Jeff Wood was sentenced to death in 1998 for his role in the murder of Kris Keeran, a gas station attendant who was killed during a 1996 robbery.

But Wood did not kill Keeran. Danny Reneau, Wood's former roommate, was convicted of shooting Keeran between the eyes during the robbery Jan. 2, 1996. Reneau was executed in 2002.

Barring a commutation from the governor, Wood, 35, will be put to death Aug. 21.

Wood was the getaway driver while Reneau robbed the Kerrvill, Texas, gas station where Keeran worked. Reneau shot and killed Keeran after he refused to go along with a plan to fake a robbery and split the proceeds, according to court documents.

Wood, who told police Keeran was a friend, later admitted that he came into the store after hearing the gunshot that killed Keeran, court opinions in the case say. Wood then helped Reneau take the store VCR and surveillance tapes -- he claimed only after Reneau forced him to do so at gunpoint.

Wood was convicted under a Texas law known as the law of parties, which makes Wood equally responsible for crimes committed by his accomplices that "should have been anticipated" during the course of the robbery -- even if he did not commit the crimes.

Though most states have similar laws, often called felony murder statutes, they are rarely used in death penalty cases. There have been eight such executions, excluding murder-for-hire cases, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Texas' law of parties statute is also broader than similar laws in most other states, said Robert Owen, director of the Capital Punishment Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.

"It's terribly risky to allow the death penalty to be imposed where the jury has to draw inferences about what was in the defendant's mind," said Owen. "There are serious questions about whether a getaway driver who might have anticipated that a death would take place should be death penalty eligible."