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Shared Responsibility?: Too many questions for Texas to execute condemned man

Shared Responsibility?: Too many questions for Texas to execute condemned man

August 3rd, 2016 by Gazette Staff in Opinion Editorial

It was two decades ago that Jeff Wood stopped by a Texaco station in Kerrville, Texas. Nothing unusual in that. Wood frequently went to the station's convenience store, sometimes several times a day.

But this time would change his life.

A man named Danny Reneau—a friend of Wood—was robbing the store. And he had a gun.

He used the gun to kill the clerk, Kriss Keeran.

Wood came into the store where, he says, Reneau threatened him. Wood helped Reneau carry the store's safe outside.

The men were arrested. And Texas law allowed both to be charged with capital murder even though Wood did not kill anyone. The idea is that accomplices in a crime such as murder are equally guilty, even if only one pulled the trigger. The state believes they "should have known" what would happen.

Sounds like a gross miscarriage of justice at first glance. But there is more to this story.

You see, Reneau, Wood and another man—an employee of the store—had planned to rob the station the day before. 

But the third man backed out and Wood said he assumed the job was off. He claims he had no knowledge that Reneau was planning to go ahead and do it alone.

Didn't matter. Both men were convicted and sentenced to death. Reneau was executed in 2002. And Wood faces his date with the gurney later this month.

The case has drawn a lot of interest around the U.S. and from other countries as well. Texas is one of the few states where an accomplice to murder can receive the death penalty. Since 1976 only 10 people have been put to death in the U.S. in similar circumstances.

Wood may be telling the truth when he says he thought the robbery was off. Or, as the state maintained at trial, he might be lying and acted as a lookout or getaway driver. 

Either way, he should not be executed. The last time such a case came up in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry commuted the condemned man's sentence to life. It was the only time Perry ever chose to step in to stop an execution.

We think Gov. Greg Abbott should do the same. We can't say whether Wood was a willing participant that day in the robbery leading to murder. But we can say there are too many questions here for the state to put him to death.

And we think the Legislature should revisit the whole concept that all parties in a crime are equally guilty, no matter the level of participation. Punishment and deterrence have a place. But so does justice.

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