AUSTIN Tex (Reuters) - Texas on Tuesday executed a man who was convicted for his involvement in the slayings of two people in north Texas, even though an alleged accomplice admitted to the killings.
Steven Michael Woods, 31, was convicted in the shooting and slashing of a young Dallas-area couple under a controversial Texas law that allows a defendant to be put to death for a murder someone else committed.
Woods was given a lethal injection of drugs and pronounced dead at 6:22 p.m. local time, said Michelle Lyons, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman.
In his last words, Woods told his mother he loved her, accused the state of committing a murder, and named his co-defendant, Marcus Rhodes, who pleaded guilty to murdering the couple and is serving a life sentence.
“You’re not about to witness an execution. You are about to witness a murder. I am strapped down for something Marcus Rhodes did. I never killed nobody, ever,” he said. “Justice has let me down. Somebody completely screwed this up. Well, Warden, if you’re going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull that trigger.”
For his last meal, Woods requested bacon; a large pizza with bacon, sausage, pepperoni and hamburger; fried chicken breasts; chicken fried steak; hamburgers with bacon on French toast; garlic bread sticks; Mountain Dew, Pepsi, root beer and sweet tea; and ice cream, Clark said.
His was the 10th execution in Texas this year and the 33rd in the country.
Woods was convicted of capital murder in 2002 after a jury found him guilty in the slayings of Ronald Whitehead, 21, and Bethena Brosz, 19, in The Colony, Texas, just outside Dallas.
When passersby found their bodies, they had both been shot in the head and their throats cut, according to a report by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office.
Woods told police that he and a friend were with the victims the night before they were found, hanging out in the Deep Ellum entertainment district in Dallas, and had agreed to take them to a house in the Colony, the report said.
Their cars became separated, and Woods and his friend, Marcus Rhodes, went back to Deep Ellum, Woods told police, according to the report.
The victims’ belongings were later discovered in Rhodes’ car, and Rhodes was arrested, the report said. Woods fled the area and was later arrested in California. Witnesses told police that Woods had bragged about killing the pair and said before their deaths that he planned to kill them, according to the report.
Rhodes pleaded guilty to killing the two, but Woods has maintained his innocence during his trial, in online posts and in media interviews.
On a Facebook page maintained by supporters, Woods said he was present for the killings but did not know they were going to happen and fled because he feared Rhodes would kill him, too.
But the jury, apparently convinced of his involvement on some level, was able to convict him using the state’s law of parties, an attorney general spokesman said.
The law allows a jury to find a defendant guilty of murder if they were involved in the crime, even if they did not directly commit the killing, or were involved in crimes that lead to the killing, or if they should have known the crime would happen and showed a “reckless disregard” for human life.
Woods maintains that all he did was witnesses a horrible crime, and then run for his life, but that the law he has called “barbaric” in web postings punished him for a crime he did not commit. Witnesses who said he told them he had killed the pair were lying, he has said.
“Imagine waking up every day in a hot humid cell, knowing that you didn’t do anything to find yourself there,” reads his posting on a Facebook page. “Knowing that so many people know that they got the wrong person, but no one wants to waste their time fighting for you.”
Death penalty advocates argued that people who help plan murders, or who are involved in actions leading up to it, are just as guilty as those who pull the trigger.
“We hold people responsible for being conspirators or assisting even in good acts,” said Dudley Sharp, a victims-rights advocate in Houston. “We are not treating murderers any different than we would by giving a Nobel Prize to someone who began research 40 years ago even though they didn’t make the breakthrough.”
During the penalty phase of the trial, jurors were told that Woods was involved in the homicide of another victim in California before the killings of Brosz and Whitehead, something Woods denies in online postings.
Texas has the country’s most active death row, executing more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
A second execution is scheduled in Texas for Thursday. Duane Buck was convicted in 1997 for the shooting deaths of two people in Harris County. Two more are planned for next week.
Editing by Greg McCune