UPDATE: CBS News has an initial report declaring that the delay was "so Wood's attorneys could hire a mental health expert to pursue their arguments that he is incompetent to be executed," an issue that nearly kept him from being prosecuted in the first place. According to the Houston Chronicle:
Wood initially was found by a jury to be mentally incompetent to stand trial. After a brief stint at a state hospital, a second jury found him competent. After he was found guilty, he tried to fire his lawyers before the penalty phase. The trial judge denied the request but Wood's lawyers followed their client's wishes and called no witnesses on his behalf and declined to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.Doesn't sound like he allowed his attorneys to put on much of a defense, does it? Whether it's evidence of mental illness, it's certainly not a rational act to restrict one's defense in a capital murder trial, particularly when, as in Wood's instance, he wasn't actually the trigger man; he'd helped plan the robbery but was sitting outside in the getaway vehicle when the murder occurred.
I've long ago given up predicting the outcome of capital appeals in Texas, so who knows how this case will turn out. But it's clear federal courts still don't have confidence that Texas is responsibly handling its death penalty cases, a fact which contributes to the extensive delays in carrying out executions.
MORE: See additional coverage from the Stand Down blog, and here's a statement issued by the Texas Defender Service:
WOOD EXECUTION HALTED BASED ON TEXAS STATE COURTS FAILURE TO PROVIDE DUE PROCESS ON ISSUES RELATING TO WOOD'S MENTAL ILLNESSAND MORE: See Judge Orlando Garcia's 20-page order (pdf). Judge Garcia found that although "evidence of petitioner's alleged incompetence now before this Court is far from compelling,"
Austin -- Today, the Federal District Court granted a stay of execution in the case of Jeff Wood to allow the court to consider compelling evidence that Jeff Wood is too mentally ill to be executed. The Court held that the Texas state courts have not carefully reviewed the question of Wood's competence and that a stay of execution is necessary to ensure that Wood's mental health issues are fully presented and considered by the courts. ...
"We applaud the Federal District Court for upholding Jeff Wood's rudimentary due process right to have his competency evaluated," said Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service, who, along with attorney Scott Sullivan, are representing Mr. Wood.
The Federal District Court authorized an attorney and the assistance of mental health experts, pointing out that the Texas state courts had not complied with the basic due process that the United States Supreme Court required in another Texas case - that of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill death row inmate with a 20 year history of schizophrenia, who was permitted to represent himself at trial dressed in a purple cowboy costume.
In its 20-page order, the Court stated, "With all due respect, a system thatrequires an insane person to first make "a substantial showing" of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system."
Prosecutors have indicated they will not appeal today's decision.
Petitioner's motion presents non-frivolous arguments suggesting petitioner currently lacks a rational understanding of the connection between his role in the offense and the punishment imposed upon him.Another money quote:
The initial constitutional deficiency with what transpired during petitioner's latest state habeas corpus proceeding is that petitioner was afforded neither court-appointed counsel nor expert assistance to challenge his own competence. Instead, the State of Texas insisted an arguably insane death row inmate proceeding without the assistance of court-appointed counsel was required to satisfy the threshold requirement of Article 46.05 ... [which involves] arcane pleadings so intellectually challenging they test the skill of even the most seasoned attorney.Finally, one of the flaws in Texas statutes and their interpretation that created these constitutional defects is an issue that SCOTUS attempted to rectify in a recent bench slap against the 5th Circuit and the Texas CCA:
the Texas statutory definition of "incompetent to be executed" apparently applied by the state trial court during petitioner's most recent state habeas corpus proceeding suffers from the exact same constitutional defect identified by the Supreme Court when it struck down as too narrow two decades of Fifth Circuit precedent construing the Supreme Court's holding in Ford.See the full opinion. (pdf)