2016.028: Capital Murder and the Law of Parties in Texas


I wrote yesterday about Texas’s Law of Parties, and how it is different from Texas’s Felony-Murder Rule. An observant reader emailed to ask:

What about Enmund  v Florida?

An excellent question. In Enmund the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Mr. Enmund’s death sentence because he “d[id] not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing take place or that lethal force w[ould] be employed.”

So how is it that Wood, who according to Hedayati “had no reason to anticipate” the killing, got the death penalty?

Because the jury found otherwise.

The law when Wood was prosecuted, as now, was that if a person was convicted of capital murder and the State sought death, the jury had to be asked:

(2) in cases in which the jury charge at the guilt or innocence stage permitted the jury to find the defendant guilty as a party under Sections 7.01 and 7.02, Penal Code, whether the defendant actually caused the death of the deceased or did not actually cause the death of the deceased but intended to kill the deceased or another or anticipated that a human life would be taken.

If the answer was “no,” the defendant was not death-eligible.

So a properly charged jury in Wood’s case must, in order for Wood to be sentenced to death, have had to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Wood at least anticipated that a human life would be taken.

And the jury was properly charged.

So before Wood was sentenced to death a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that, at the very least, he anticipated a killing in his escapade with Reneau.

I don’t think the State should be in the business of putting people to death. But neither do I think it acceptable for a lawyer to spread untruths to get people to oppose the death penalty. And when Hedayati writes:

[N]eglecting to anticipate another actor’s commission of murder in the course of a felony is all that is required to make a Texas defendant death-eligible.

That’s just untrue.

Spreading untruths for a political end is not just wrong; it’s also counterproductive. It gives ammunition to your political opponents (Look! He is so wrong he has to lie to try to win!) and it alienates your honest allies (Hi!).


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