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Texas Death Penalty No Longer In The ‘Express Lane’

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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A man who was scheduled to be executed by the state of Texas is still alive after his case was sent back to court for reexamination, exemplifying an overarching pattern of aversion to capital punishment across the country.

Jeffery Wood, whose original penalty was lethal injection, was convicted under the law of parties, a unique statute in Texas that allows people to be charged and sentenced for crimes they may not have been directly responsible for.

Wood was sentenced to death for fatal shooting of Kris Lee Keeran, a gas station service attendant, according to The Washington Post. Daniel E. Reneau was convicted for the killing of Keeran and was executed in 2002.

Under the Texas penal code, “a person is criminally responsible as a party to an offense if the offense is committed by his own conduct, by the conduct of another for which he is criminally responsible, or by both.”

Scott Cobb, president of Texas Moratorium Network, an advocacy group established to combat capital punishment, told WaPo that Wood would be the “least culpable person executed in the modern era of death penalty.”

Wood filed a writ of habeas corpus–a formal petition for a court to review the legitimacy of imprisonment–highlighting that testimony was seemingly false and that disciplinary action should be proportional to overall guilt.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with at least some of Wood’s contentions. It stated in a formal order that Wood’s “claims that his sentence was obtained in violation of due process because it was based on false testimony and false scientific evidence” were viable enough to remand “to the trial court for resolution.”

Public records listed on the website of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reveal that five other people slated for death row had their sentences reevaluated in the past five months. Four out of five of the inmates sentenced to death were lessened to life, and one is still awaiting a new punishment hearing.

This seems to be a growing trend for the U.S. as 2015 saw the fewest recorded executions in a single year since 1991, according to Amnesty International. In general, death sentences issued in 2015 were the lowest in a single year in more than four decades, WaPo reports.

The Nebraska legislature voted to abolish the death penalty in 2015 and overrode Governor Pete Rickett’s veto. Pennsylvania placed a moratorium on the death penalty late last year.

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