AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday halted an execution planned for next week of a man convicted as an accomplice to a murder he did not commit in a case that raised questions about how the state applies the death penalty.
Jeffery Wood, 43, was scheduled to be executed on Aug. 24 by lethal injection. He was convicted of taking part in a 1996 convenience store robbery during which clerk Kriss Keeran was fatally shot.
In its decision, the appeals court asked a lower court to review his sentence and claims from Wood’s lawyer that it was obtained in violation of due process because it was based on false testimony and false scientific evidence.
Wood’s lawyer questioned a witness for the prosecution, forensic psychiatrist Dr. James Grigson, who told a court in the 1990s Wood would commit future acts of violence and was a threat to society.
Grigson, nicknamed “Dr. Death” for his willingness to testify against people facing the death penalty, was expelled from the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association for ethical violations: making diagnoses of capital murder defendants without first examining them.
“The court did the right thing by staying Mr. Wood’s execution and authorizing his claims related to Dr. Grigson’s false testimony during the sentencing phase to be considered on the merits,” said Jared Tyler, Wood’s lawyer.
Wood was unarmed in a vehicle outside the store when it was robbed. Prosecutors have said Wood knew the clerk might be shot. Wood’s lawyers said he was unaware that a robbery was underway.
Wood’s roommate at the time, Daniel Reneau, was convicted of pulling the trigger and executed on June 13, 2002.
“I am not aware of a case where a person has been executed with so minimal culpability and with such little participation in the event,” Tyler said in an interview.
Under Texas’ “Law of Parties,” a person can be charged with capital murder even if the offense is committed by someone else.
After he heard a shot, Wood entered the store to help Reneau steal a cash box, safe and security video system.
Ten people have been executed as accessories to felony murder since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors capital punishment.
Five have been in Texas, which has executed more people than any state since the death penalty was reinstated.