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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Execution delayed to test inmate's competency

Mental HUNTSVILLE — A federal judge on Thursday delayed the execution of a condemned Texas inmate so he can be tested to determine whether he's mentally competent to understand why he would be put to death.

Jeffery Wood was set to be executed Thursday for taking part in a 1996 robbery of a Hill Country store in which a clerk was fatally shot.

But U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio granted a request by Wood's attorneys to delay his execution so they could hire a mental health expert to pursue their arguments that he is incompetent to be executed. Texas courts had previously refused similar appeals.

Wood's "motion presents non-frivolous arguments suggesting (he) currently lacks a rational understanding of the connection between his role in his offense and the punishment imposed upon him," Garcia wrote in his 20-page order.

Although the evidence was far from compelling, Garcia said, there were enough facts to conclude Wood had made a "substantial threshold showing of insanity."

Garcia wrote that his decision was based on the state trial court's refusal to afford Wood fundamental due process protections mandated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year. That ruling blocked the execution of a mentally ill Texas murderer because lower courts failed to consider whether he had a rational understanding of why he was to be killed.

"We applaud the (court) for upholding Jeff Wood's rudimentary due process right to have his competency evaluated," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service, a legal group also representing Wood.

The attorney general's office, which argued that Wood had failed to show he was incompetent to be executed, said in an e-mail statement that "our attorneys are reviewing the order and will make a decision whether to appeal." [Mark Godsey]

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