Evangelical Leaders Call for Halt to Texas Execution

Demand new sentencing hearing for Jeff Wood

Last week the state of Delaware ruled the death penalty unconstitutional! This is a huge victory for all who fight for the sanctity of life. But this week, efforts continue to halt the execution of a mentally impaired man, who never killed anyone, in Texas.

jeff woodDozens of evangelical leaders in Texas and across the nation have sent a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons calling for the scheduled execution of Jeff Wood to be stopped. Wood has been on death row 18 years for being the getaway driver in a deadly convenience store robbery, even though he did not kill anyone.

The letter says, in part, “Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments who never should have been sentenced to death.”

The evangelical leaders believe Texas officials have a moral obligation to correct this misguided death sentence acknowledging that Wood committed a crime, but not one deserving the death penalty.

“The public is always told that the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous crimes, but Jeff Wood’s case doesn’t even come close,” said Shari Silberstein, Executive Director of Equal Justice USA, a national criminal justice reform organization that is working with evangelical leaders across the country. “In spite of Jeff Wood having well-documented mental impairments, this evidence was never presented at trial.”

The faith leaders’ letter with the list of signatories, below, is unequivocal.

August 8, 2016

Governor Greg Abbott
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
P.O. Box 13401
Austin, TX 78711-3401

Dear Governor Abbott and Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles,

We are evangelical leaders united in our call for a new sentencing hearing for Jeff Wood and for his scheduled execution to be stopped. Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments  who never should have been sentenced to death. Officials have a moral obligation to rectify this mistake and stop this execution while they still can.

On January 2, 1996, a senseless murder occurred during the course of a convenience store robbery in Kerrville, Texas. Daniel Reneau shot and killed Kris Keeran, who was working as the store clerk. While this happened, Wood was in the car that he had come in with Reneau. Nothing suggests that Wood planned with Reneau to murder Keeran. In fact, witnesses attest that Wood told Reneau not to bring his gun before they left for the convenience store.

These details significantly lessen Wood’s culpability in the crime. As the getaway driver, Wood committed a crime, but not one deserving the death penalty. The death penalty, we are told, is reserved for the most egregious crimes. Wood’s actions—which did not include directly committing a murder or intending to—simply do not fall into this category.

Moreover, Wood had intellectual and emotional disabilities that were well documented before the murder. His impairments impacted his behavior at trial, as he irrationally instructed his attorneys not to present any evidence on his behalf. So the jury never heard any evidence of his background, including his mental impairments. Instead, Dr. James Grigson—a psychiatrist expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for ethical violations—testified to the jury that Wood represented a future danger, despite never evaluating him.

It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of. All are made in God’s image, and as a society we especially must protect those with mental illness and disabilities. Public officials must not shirk this responsibility. We urge them to act now to spare Wood’s life.

In Christ,

Texas Pastors

N. Larry Baker, Director of Doctor of Ministry Program and Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, TX

Paul Basden, Pastor of Preston Trail Community Church, Frisco, TX

Derek Dodson, Senior Lecturer of the Religion Department at Baylor University, Waco, TX

Wes Helm, Associate Pastor of Springcreek Church, Garland, TX

Robert Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education, Director of the Center for Evangelism and Missional Church Studies, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

William O’Brien, Executive Director of The Gaston Christian Center, Dallas, TX

Paul Randall, Associate Pastor of Ecclesia, Houston, TX

Scott Tjernagel, Lead Pastor of River City Vineyard Community Church, New Braunfels, TX

Donald Williford, Dean of Logsdon School of Theology, Abilene, TX

Ralph Wood, University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, Waco, TX

National Leaders

Bob Adams, Baptist Industrial Chaplain, Asheville, NC

Vincent Bacote, Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

Cheryl Bridges Johns, Professor of Discipleship and Christian Formation at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, Cleveland, TN

LaMon Brown, Retired Missionary for the International Missions of American Baptist Churches, USA, Birmingham, AL

Valerie Burton, Minister for Christian Formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, AL

Tony Campolo, Co-founder of Red Letter Christians, Wayne, PA

Shane Claiborne, Author, Activist, and Co-Founder of Red Letter Christians, Philadelphia, PA

Jim Clifford, Hospice Chaplain, Fairhope, AL

Carolyn Dipboye, Co-Pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Oak Ridge, TN

Larry Dipboye, Pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Oak Ridge, TN

Tom Duley, Minister of Missions and Pastoral Care at Bluff Park United Methodist Church, Hoover, AL

David Gushee, Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life and Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA

Christopher Hamlin, Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL

Lisa Sharon Harper, Senior Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, Washington, D.C.

Antipas Harris, Associate Professor of Regent University School of Divinity and President of GIELD, Inc.

Ruford Hodges, Jr., Retired Baptist Minister, Birmingham, AL

Fisher Humphreys, Professor of Divinity, Emeritus, Samford University, Birmingham, AL

Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor of Northland – A Church Distributed

Lynne Hybels, Co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL

Kate Kooyman, Project Developer for the Office of Social Justice, Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI

Bill Leonard, Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History at Wake Forest University, Winston Salem, NC

Jim Lyon, General Director of Church of God Ministries, Anderson, IN

Carlos Malavé, Executive Director of Christian Churches Together, Louisville, KY

Eric Mason, Chair of Biblical Studies at Judson University, Algonquin, IL

Brian McLaren, Christian author and theologian, Ocala, FL

Jonathan Merritt, Senior columnist for Religion News Service, Brooklyn, NY

Sam Mikolaski, Retired Southern Baptist Theological Professor and former President of the Atlantic Baptist  College, Oceanside, CA

R. Kelvin Moore, University Professor of Biblical Studies at Union University and Pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church, Bradford, TN

Morris Murray, Jr.,  Associate Pastor, New Life Baptist Church, Japser, AL

John Phelan, Former President and current Dean of North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL

Paul Richardson, Former Treasurer and Board member of the Alliance of Baptists, Birmingham, AL

Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, Sacramento, CA

Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, Washington, D.C.

Walter Shurden, Minister at Large at Mercer University, Macon, GA

Tony Suarez, Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONEL, Virginia Beach, VA

Peter Vander Meulen, Coordinator of the Office of Social Justice for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Grand Rapids, MI

Jim Wallis, Founder of Sojourners, Washington, DC

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Associate Minister of St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church, Durham, NC

Sarah Withrow King and the entire team at Evangelicals for Social Action/The Sider Center

Angie Wright, Greater Birmingham Ministries, Birmingham, AL

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2 Responses

  1. Dudley Sharp says:

    In 2008, The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 against commutation of Jeff Wood’s death sentence.

    That denial is supported by the facts, now, as always.

    The Baptist ministers, seeking Wood’s commutation, should have a better handle on the facts

    ” . . . (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)

    Might?

    “Evidence showed the (Wood and Reneau) 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)

    The criminals failure to recruit Keeran into the robbery meant that they would have to murder Keeran if they decided to go through with the robbery.

    They did.

    “Wood told his brother, who was not implicated, to destroy the surveillance tape after watching it together, according to the San Antonio Express.”

    They watched the tape of the robbery/murder, for entertainment.

    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 fled with the store safe, a cash box and a video recorder containing a security tape showing the robbery and slaying. ”

    “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,” (1)

    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.”

    Here’s the section of the law of parties which, properly, applies to Wood.

    “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 . . . “.

    • Sarah King says:

      Did you mean to include sources? They didn’t come through, and would be helpful. Our position has always been that the death penalty ought to be abolished, as part of our completely pro-life advocacy. “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?” is one way to look at it. Here’s another: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” — Sarah

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