Jeffery Wood, is scheduled to be executed in Texas today for being an accomplice in the murder of a convenience store clerk. The actual killer was put to death six years ago. Wood’s case is a rare death sentence under Texas’ law of parties, which holds accomplices in murders just as culpable as the person who pulled the trigger or wielded the knife. The case has prompted protests by those who contend that the law and the punishment are archaic. David Fathi of Human Rights Watch contends that the rest of the world views the case “with shock and incomprehension,” reports the Houston Chronicle.
The law has been part of the state penal code since at least 1879. “It’s a pretty traditional criminal law that accomplices and co-conspirators are equally held culpable,” said University of Houston law professor Sandra Thompson, a criminal law specialist. “You don’t have to specifically agree to commit a killing. You agree to commit the target crime. Then any other crimes that are foreseeable, you’re responsible.” University of Texas law professor Jordan Steiker disagrees, arguing that the law’s application to Wood “flies in the face of a broader effort to reserve the death penalty for extreme cases.” The law of parties, derived from English common law, is on the books in 24 of 36 U.S. death penalty states. Fahti said it is increasingly rare internationally. England abolished it 51 years ago.