Some folks will argue that the death penalty is necessary for the most heinous crimes, the “worst of the worst.”
But it is increasingly clear that when it comes to executions in America, we are not killing the worst of the worst. We are killing the poorest of the poor. One of the best determinants of who gets executed is not the atrocity of the crime, but the resources of the defendant. As renowned death penalty lawyer Bryan Stevenson has said, “Far too often, you are better off being rich and guilty, than poor and innocent.”
Jeff Wood is a perfect example of why it is time to abolish the death penalty. He is the next person facing execution in the United States — on Aug. 24. And, not surprisingly, it’s happening in Texas. In addition to the resources of the defendant, another key determinant in who gets killed is where the crime is committed. Geography often determines who dies.
Texas is the death state, accounting for roughly half of all executions. This year six of the 15 executions in the U.S. were in Texas, and every remaining execution of 2016 is in this one state.
So what did Wood do that could now cost him his life?
Wood didn’t rape or torture anyone. He’s not a serial killer or mass shooter. In fact, Wood did not kill anyone. He drove the getaway car as his co-defendant, Daniel Reneau, threatened to kill him for disobeying.
Texas is one of five states that have a peculiar law called the “Law of Parties, ” which allows someone to be condemned for something someone else did. As absurd as it may seem in modern-day America, Wood is guilty by association. It is objectively clear in the case that Reneau orchestrated the robbery, shot the victim and forced Wood to drive the car away from the scene of the crime.
Wood was not even inside the building when the crime was committed. And before this event he had no criminal record.
Wood’s health records dating back to childhood show that he suffers from intellectual disabilities. He was deemed not mentally fit to stand trial and was admitted into a mental hospital. The jury in Wood’s case heard false and misleading testimony from a discredited psychiatrist and never heard about his mental illness or intellectual disabilities.
During trial, Wood asked to represent himself, but the judge found him incapable of doing this. However, as strange as it may sound, Wood was permitted to order his attorneys not to defend him. So witnesses were not called, and others were not cross-examined. It was a debacle of justice.
He was deemed unfit to stand trial. But somehow he is now being deemed fit to die. The day and hour of his death have been scheduled. He is set to die five days after his 43rd birthday.
I am proud that voices around the world — from Susan Sarandon to Pope Francis — are rising up and calling for a stop to his execution, and to all executions.
But it’s not just celebrities. I was honored to sign a petition alongside dozens of evangelical pastors and faith leaders in Texas and around the country calling for a halt to the execution of Wood. It is beautiful to now see Baptists, Pentecostals and nondenominational megachurch pastors among those calling for an end to the death penalty.
It blows my mind and breaks my heart that we continue to trust our very imperfect government with the ultimate and irreversible power of life and death. It is time to end the death penalty in America. In the name of Jeff Wood. And in the name of another executed man … named Jesus.
UPDATE — THE EXECUTION OF JEFF WOODS SCHEDULED FOR AUGUST 24 HAS BEEN HALTED (by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals)!
Thanks to all who worked so hard to try and stop his execution. May we continue to work together to stop EVERY execution. Prayers and love go out tonight to Jeff on his birthday, to his legal team and his family, and to all the victims of violence and execution. May God show us a better way of doing justice than killing to show that killing is wrong.