Washington – Jeffery Wood did not fire the gun that
killed a Texas store clerk during a robbery gone wrong, nor did he even witness
the shooting. But that didn't stop the most active death penalty state from
scheduling his execution next week.
On the morning of January 2, 1996, Wood was sitting in a pickup truck outside the convenience store at a gas station in the city of Kerrville while his friend Daniel Reneau went inside to rob a safe.
Reneau had planned to stage an unarmed robbery before escaping into the hills with Wood's help. But the plan went awry when Reneau shot the store employee in the head after he refused to comply.
Hearing the gun go off, Wood rushed into the store to find a blood-soaked scene. He helped Reneau remove a video surveillance recorder before the two men fled, taking the safe and a cash box.
They were arrested the following day, quickly identified by witnesses.
Wood, who turns 43 on Friday, was sentenced to death under Texas's so-called law of parties, under which anyone involved in a criminal plot resulting in death is equally responsible, regardless of actual involvement or intent.
Prosecutors have argued that Wood could have anticipated that a murder would take place.
But activists, along with Wood's attorneys, are fighting to halt the execution or at least obtain a reprieve.
Reneau was put to death in 2002.
But even in Texas – which executes far more inmates than the other 30 states that exercise capital punishment – Wood's case is an outlier.
"I have never seen an execution in the United States with this low of a level of culpability as Mr Wood has," his defense attorney Kate Black told AFP.
"I think that this case is a really strong example of the problem with the law of parties and I think that the [Texas] Court of Criminal Appeals will take that very seriously."
She claims that Wood, who is said to have the IQ of a child, was unaware that Reneau – whom he had met just two months earlier – would carry a firearm into the convenience store.
Wood's family and activists have worked hard to stop the lethal injection set to take place on August 24.
"Jeffery Wood only has one child and that is me!!!" his daughter Paige wrote on a website supporting her father.
"I have been deprived because of somebody else's crime. Should I continue to be punished?" she added.
"Please do not kill him... He did not kill anybody. He is a kind, gentle man and I need him! If you kill him... you are killing me!!!!!!!"
Several dozen evangelical leaders have also written to Texas Governor Greg Abbott demanding clemency.