Austin, Texas, Aug 10, 2016 / 05:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In Texas, two scheduled executions could kill innocent men, Catholic and other Christian leaders have warned. “In both cases, there are strong indicators that the defendants may be innocent. A gross misuse of justice does not serve the victims, our society or those who have been sentenced to death,” the Texas Catholic bishops said Aug 3.
They urged Texans to write to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles regarding Jeff Wood and Robert Pruett. Wood is scheduled for execution Aug. 24. “Jeff Wood has not ever killed another person. He was not even in the building when the murder for which he is sentenced took place,” the bishops said. “His mental health and the witness of a now-discredited psychiatrist seem to be the primary reasons for his capital punishment.”
In January 1996 Wood, then 22, waited in a car while Daniel Runeau robbed a Kerryville convenience store. Runeau shot and killed the clerk, Kriss Keeran, the Texas Tribune reports. Wood was charged with capital murder under a Texas law that says a person can be charged with a crime if he helps commit another crime or should have anticipated that other crime as a result.
The Texas Catholic Conference’s executive director Jennifer Carr Alimon, in an Aug. 3 letter to Gov. Abbot and the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles, said his original sentencing hearing was “prejudiced by the false and perjured testimony” of a discredited psychiatrist. “The jury also did not hear evidence that might have caused it to spare Mr. Wood’s life,” Alimon’s letter said. Wood’s mental illness should have made him incompetent to stand trial, but he had instructed his attorneys not to present evidence on his behalf or cross-examine witnesses,” Alimon added. “It is extremely rare for any person in the history of the modern death penalty to have been executed with as little culpability and participation in the taking of a life as Mr. Wood.”
A group of Evangelical leaders also called for a halt to the execution of Wood and asked for a new sentencing hearing. “Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments who never should have been sentenced to death,” they said in an Aug. 8 letter. The letter’s signers included Rev. Sam Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Willow Creek co-Founder Lynne Hybels, Dr. Antipas Harris of Regent University School of Divinity, and Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law & Justice.
Regarding the case of Robert Pruett, who is seeking clemency, the Texas bishops said there is “no physical evidence tying him to his alleged crime and possibly false testimony.” Pruett was convicted of murdering Texas prison guard Daniel Nagle in prison in 1999. He has always denied he killed the guard. Only witness testimony from other inmates, not physical evidence, links him to the crime. He has claimed he was framed by the killers, who were worried Nagle was about to expose corruption in the prison.
Pruett had been serving a 99-year sentence as an accessory to murder. He was tried as an adult at the age of 15 after his father stabbed and killed their neighbor. Prosecutors said Pruett had gotten into a fistfight with the neighbor earlier that night, the web magazine Fusion reports.