Twenty years ago, Lucy Wilke was the prosecutor who sent Jeff Wood to Texas’ death row, even though he never killed anyone. Now, according to the Texas Tribune, Wilke, along with several other state officials, is asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend that Wood’s death sentence be reduced to life in prison. “The penalty now appears to be excessive,” the Tribune says Wilke wrote in a letter to the board urging it to recommend that Gov. Greg Abbott grant clemency to Wood.
The paper reports that the letter was also signed by the district judge who is handling Wood’s appeal, as well as the Kerrville police chief, among others.
In January 1996, Wood sat in a truck outside a gas station in Kerrville, while a friend went inside to rob a convenience store, and shot and killed the clerk, Kriss Keeran. His friend was sentenced to death and executed in 2002. And even though Wood was not even in the store when the killing occurred, he too was sentenced to death.
Wood was sentenced to death under Texas’ so-called “law of parties,” which says an accomplice in a crime that results in murder is just as liable as the actual killer. A bipartisan group of state legislators attempted to introduce reforms to the statute in the most recent session but the effort failed.
Wood was six days away from his execution in August 2016 when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a stay, and sent his case back to the trial court to review his claim that his jury was biased toward a death sentence because of controversial “expert” testimony from a psychiatrist, nicknamed “Dr. Death,” who provided false evidence about Wood’s future dangerousness.
It is far from certain that the governor would accept the parole board’s recommendation if they were to recommend clemency. As the Dallas News wrote in an editorial, “Abbott, sensitive to protecting his red-state bona fides, has not reduced a capital sentence to life since he took office in 2015.”
However, the editorial concluded, “The case of Jeff Wood would be a sensible and honorable place to start.”