Court Stays Execution of Man Who Did Not Kill
Federal judge says Texas violated constitutional rights of death row inmate.
Aug. 21, 2008 — -- A federal court today temporarily stopped the execution of a man who was the getaway driver in a robbery that ended in murder, saying he should have the opportunity to argue he is too mentally ill to be executed.
Jeff Wood was scheduled to be executed in Texas Thursday night for his role in the 1996 death of Kris Keeran, a gas station convenience store clerk. Wood was waiting in the car while his former roommate robbed the store, and shot and killed Keeran.
The case has received national media attention because it would be one of the few executions under a legal doctrine that made Wood responsible for crimes committed by his accomplices that "should have been anticipated" -- even if he did not actually commit the crime.
But federal judge Orlando Garcia stayed the execution for another reason, finding that Texas violated Wood's constitutional rights by refusing to provide Wood with a lawyer to help him argue that he is too mentally incompetent to be executed.
"With all due respect, 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," Garcia wrote.
Wood's attorneys said that Texas did not plan to appeal Garcia's ruling.
Garcia said there was some evidence that Wood did not understand the connection between his role in Keeran's death and the reason he was sentenced to death. He found that Wood should be given the chance to argue that he is mentally incompetent.
Wood was initially found too mentally incompetent to stand trial. After a few months in a state hospital, Wood was found competent to go to trial, though he had not had any medical treatment during that time. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998.
An earlier mental health evaluation said Wood had delusional thought patterns and could not appreciate the consequences of his actions. His wife and father, in previous interviews with ABCNews.com, said Wood was eager to please and has trouble understanding information.