[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----Urgent Action 269/11 - Execution Due Within Days in Texas
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sat Sep 10 08:36:58 CDT 2011
URGENT ACTION APPEAL
- From Amnesty International USA
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Issue Date: 9 September 2011
EXECUTION DUE WITHIN DAYS IN TEXAS
Steven Woods is due to be executed in Texas on 13 September. Convicted of a double murder in 2002,
he is seeking commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment. His co-defendant pleaded
guilty to killing both victims and received a life sentence.
On 2 May 2001, the body of Ronald Whitehead and the fatally injured Bethena Brosz, who died the
following day without regaining consciousness, were found in Denton County, north of Dallas, Texas.
Both had been shot. Two young men in their early 20s, Marcus Rhodes and Steven Woods, were arrested
and charged with the crimes.
Although Marcus Rhodes was arrested within three days of the murders, several months before Steven
Woods, it was Woods who was brought to trial first, in August 2002. He was convicted and sentenced
to death. Three months later, Marcus Rhodes reached a plea agreement with the prosecution in which
he pleaded guilty to having personally shot both the victims, was sentenced to life imprisonment and
transferred to California where he was facing charges for a murder committed before the Texas
killings. He was sentenced to 25 years to life imprisonment for that murder. He is currently serving
his life sentences in prison in Texas.
Steven Woods, now 31, is seeking clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor
in the form of commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment, arguing that it is
"irreconcilable" that he is to be executed for a crime for which his "no less culpable" co-defendant
is serving a life sentence.
On appeal, lawyers for Steven Woods have argued that it was fundamentally unfair that the
prosecution adopted inconsistent theories of his and Marcus Rhodes' guilt. At Woods' trial, the
prosecution argued that while Rhodes had participated in the murders and supplied the car and the
guns used in the crime, Woods had planned the crime and committed the shootings. Then in Rhodes' own
sentencing under the plea deal in November 2002, Rhodes stipulated that he, Rhodes, had shot both
the victims. The Texas appeal courts dismissed Steven Woods' claim of unfairness. In 2009, a federal
court decided that because the US Supreme Court had never ruled on the constitutionality of the
state presenting different theories in separate proceedings against co-defendants, it was not
contrary to federal law for the state courts to have denied the claim that Woods had been denied due
The courts have also rejected the claim that Steven Woods' trial lawyers were constitutionally
ineffective for failing to thoroughly investigate mitigating evidence of his history of abuse,
neglect and mental health problems to use at the sentencing phase of his trial to try to persuade
the jury to vote for a life sentence rather than death.
PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in your own language:
-Acknowledge the seriousness of the crime for which Steven Woods was sentenced to death;
-Expressing concern at inconsistent prosecution theories against the two defendants in this case and
at the unfairness of an outcome where one defendant receives a death sentence and another who plead
guilty to personally shooting the two victims receives a life sentence;
-Call for the execution of Steven Woods, prisoner number #999427, to be stopped and clemency
PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 13 SEPTEMBER 2011 TO:
Clemency Section, Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Fax 011 1 512 467 0945
Email: bpp-pio at tdcj.state.tx.us
Salutation: Dear Board members
Governor Rick Perry, Office of the Governor,
PO Box 12428
Fax: 011 1 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor
Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action Office if sending appeals after the above date.
Steven Woods had just turned 21 years old at the time of the crime for which he is facing execution.
At the sentencing phase of his trial in 2002, the defense lawyers presented a single witness, a
social worker, who had reviewed certain medical, school and juvenile justice records relating to the
defendant's history. She presented some mitigating evidence, including that Steven Woods had been
hospitalized as a child for self-mutilation and suicidal behavior, that his father was violent, and
that the boy had not received family or institutional support when he began to get into trouble with
the law. Since the trial, a psychologist who has evaluated Steven Woods has said that because the
social worker had never met Steven Woods or conducted any assessment of him, "she could only provide
cursory testimony about what she had read in the records. Moreover, much of her testimony lacked the
specificity and important detail about Steven's life needed to help the jury understand the links
between his history of child abuse and neglect and his long-standing psychological problems. This
seems to have occurred because trial counsel did not gather the data necessary for constructing an
adequate social history."
Further mitigation investigation has been conducted during the appeal process, revealing information
with which the jury was not presented. This includes evidence of possible sexual abuse of Steven
Woods by his father (who left home when Steven was six), physical and emotional abuse at the hands
of his stepfather, evidence of a family history of substance abuse and further evidence of Steven
Woods' abuse of drugs from the age of 13, including LSD, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, codeine
and marijuana. Steven Woods was homeless between the ages of 17 and 19, living in Detroit, Chicago
and New York. During this time, he worked as a prostitute to obtain money for drugs. In addition,
Steven Woods has been diagnosed with serious depression and other mental health problems and there
is evidence of a family history of mental illness.
In 2009, the US District Court found that Steven Woods' trial lawyers should at least have attempted
to interview their client's siblings when preparing for the sentencing phase. As a result this
federal judge ruled that it had been unreasonable that the state appeal court found it was not
deficient that the defense counsel failed to conduct a more thorough investigation into Steven
Woods' family background. However, the judge said that he could not find that the outcome of the
trial would have been different even if the lawyers had conducted a more thorough investigation. He
upheld the death sentence and this was affirmed in 2010 by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally, in every case, in every country.
The death penalty's fundamental flaws have led to what once seemed a permanent part of the legal
landscape in many countries being dissolved, with 139 countries today abolitionist in law or
practice. The US administration has dismissed appeals from such countries for the USA to abolish the
death penalty as reflecting "continuing policy differences, not a genuine difference about what
international human rights law requires." While it is true that international human rights law,
including article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), recognizes
that some countries retain the death penalty, this acknowledgment of present reality should not be
invoked "to delay or to prevent the abolition of capital punishment", in the words of article 6.6 of
the ICCPR. The USA ratified the ICCPR nearly 20 years ago. The UN Human Rights Committee, the expert
body established under the ICCPR to monitor the treaty's implementation, has said that article 6
"refers generally to abolition in terms which strongly suggest that abolition is desirable. The
Committee concludes that all measures of abolition should be considered as progress in the enjoyment
of the right to life".
There have been 1,266 executions in the USA since judicial killing resumed there in 1977, 473 of
which have been carried out in Texas. There have been 32 executions in the USA this year, nine of
them in Texas. There have been 273 executions in Texas since late 2000 under the governorship of
Rick Perry (see http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/057/2009/en)
Name(s): Steven Michael Woods(m)
Issue(s): Death penalty
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Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement that promotes and defends human rights.
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including contact information and stop action
date (if applicable). Thank you for your help with this appeal.
Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave SE 5th fl
Washington DC 20003
Email: uan at aiusa.org
END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL
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