Sunday, August 21, 2016

Execution of Wood unjustified

Supporters of the death penalty usually claim that it’s OK because only the worst killers are executed. In Texas that isn’t always the case and I’m not even considering the questionable convictions using tainted evidence or prosecutorial misconduct. No, I’m talking about what will happen in about two weeks. On August 24th Texas is scheduled to execute a man who even the prosecution says didn’t kill anyone. If you think he’s guilty of some other heinous crime you’d be wrong.

How is that legal, you might ask. Texas criminal code includes something referred to as the “law of parties” wherein all those party to a crime are guilty to the same degree for whatever happens even if they didn’t actually participate in the act. In this case Jeff Wood was the getaway driver for a convenience store robbery in which the robber shot and killed the clerk. Wood wasn’t even in the building at the time of the crime. The actual shooter was executed more than a decade ago and Wood has been in prison for the last 18 years.

In addition to the question of culpability, there’s also the question of Wood’s competence to stand trial. The trial was initially postponed because a jury deemed Wood incompetent to stand trial. Wood has borderline intellectual functioning and a history of emotional issues. 

And then there’s the wildly speculative and inflammatory testimony of Dr. James Grigson, the infamous forensic psychiatrist known by many, including his peers, as “Dr. Death,” for testifying in nearly every death penalty case he appeared in that the defendant would present a future menace unless executed. It’s amazing that Grigson was even allowed to testify given that he’d been expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and its Texas counterpart for his unethical behavior long before he testified against Wood.

No one, not even his family, is suggesting that Wood wasn’t involved in the commission of a crime but if your support for the death penalty is due to your need for retribution how does executing Jeff Wood satisfy that need? If you consider yourself Christian; how does “an eye for an eye” square with the Christ’s teaching on forgiveness? If your view is that “it’s the law”; just remember that slavery was once the law of the land and in 1940’s Germany gassing Jews was legal.

Recent research shows that the victim’s families don’t feel the closure so often imagined when the culprit is executed. So the questions are: Why are we executing this man? What purpose does it serve?

To quote Gov. Greg Abbott: “Human life is not a commodity or an inconvenience. It is our most basic right. Without it, we have no other rights.”

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