Jeff Wood was supposed to die this week.
He was sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of a convenience store clerk, even though it’s been well established that he never killed anyone. A friend of his killed a Kerrville gas station clerk in a botched robbery and Wood was waiting in a truck outside the store.
He was still held accountable for the crime under the Texas’ law of parties. Similar to laws of accomplice liability in other states, Texas law says that anyone who “solicits, encourages, directs, aids, or attempts to aid the other person to commit the offense” is criminally liable as well.
But on Friday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Wood’s execution. The court ordered that his case should be re-tried – not because of any issue with the law of parties, but because of potentially flawed testimony from a psychiatrist nicknamed Dr. Death.
Jolie McCullough, reporter for the Texas Tribune, says the case is going back to trial court for “resolution” because Dr. James Grigson, the psychiatrist who was called as a state expert in the sentencing trial, has been “ousted” from the American Psychiatric Association.
“(There were) claims that he would analyze a defendant without actually having examined him,” she says. “Most of his testimony was based on hypotheticals.”
McCullough says the court isn’t supposed to be politically motivated, but public attention to the case could have swayed them to rule on it. “They filed this case and it did have this new information about Dr. Grigson, which is what they ruled on,” McCullough says.
McCullough says she’d be surprised if Wood’s case changed the way the law of parties is applied in Texas. “This case was so specific,” she says. “Even the lawmakers who have signed on (to help Wood) have really made it clear, This isn’t about the law of parties…. This is just about this one guy who seemingly had very little culpability in this situation.”
Typically, McCullough says the law of parties has applied to contract killers or more straight-forward examples of aiding in murder, like driving a person who’s shooting out the window. “(People in those cases) are very much aware of what’s happening,” she says.
McCullough says this new ruling from the Court of Criminal Appeals only applies to the sentencing. “This could take years,” she says. “Perhaps he gets a re-sentencing trial, so he could get life, as opposed to death. But this doesn’t focus on his conviction at all.”
Post by Hannah McBride.