Baptist ministers join call to halt execution

The Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, commonly known as the Walls Unit, houses the state’s execution chamber. (

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AUSTIN—Several Texas Baptist ministers and professors joined evangelical leaders from around the country in urging Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the scheduled Aug. 24 execution of Jeff Wood.

Paul Basden, pastor of Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco; Paul Randall, associate pastor of Ecclesia in Houston; William O’Brien, executive director of the Gaston Christian Center in Dallas; Don Williford and Larry Baker from Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary; and Ralph Wood and Derek Dodson from Baylor University are among more than four-dozen Christian leaders who signed an Aug. 8 letter to Abbott and the board calling for a new sentencing hearing for Wood.

‘A moral obligation to rectify this mistake’

“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,” the letter states. “Officials have a moral obligation to rectify this mistake and stop this execution while they still can.”

Baptists outside Texas who signed the letter include David Gushee and Walter Shurden from Mercer University, Fisher Humphreys from Samford University and Bill Leonard from Wake Forest University.  

Others who signed the letter include Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne, co-founders of Red Letter Christians; Lynne Hybels, co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill.; Jonathan Merritt, senior columnist for Religion News Service; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners in Washington, D.C.

Drove the getaway vehicle

Wood participated in a robbery in Kerrville Jan. 2, 1996, when Daniel Reneau shot and killed Kris Keeran, a convenience store clerk. A jury convicted Reneau of capital murder, and he was executed by lethal injection in Huntsville June 13, 2002. 

Wood, who entered the store and participated in the robbery after Reneau shot Keeran, drove the getaway truck. Wood was convicted of murder in a separate trial and sentenced to death.

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“As the getaway driver, Wood committed a crime, but not one deserving the death penalty,” the letter to Abbott and the board states. “The death penalty, we are told, is reserved for the most egregious crimes. Wood’s actions—which did not include directly committing a murder or intending to—simply do not fall into this category.”

‘Intellectual impairments’

The letter also asserts Wood “had intellectual and emotional disabilities that were well documented before the murder,” but the jury was not made aware of his background.

“It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of,” the letter states. “All are made in God’s image, and as a society, we especially must protect those with mental illness and disabilities. Public officials must not shirk this responsibility.”

Wood’s attorneys filed a petition with a district court in Kerr County seeking a writ of habeas corpus July 29, asking for a stay of execution and a new sentencing hearing. The petition asserts Wood has “debilitating emotional and intellectual impairments,” with an IQ of about 80—more than one full standard deviation below normal.

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