Collin County Republican unlikely advocate in death penalty fight

A Plano state representative fights to stop execution

PLANO -- House Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano) is a strong supporter off the death penalty, but he doesn't believe Jeff Wood should die.

"The death penalty is an important part of our society," Leach said, "and it's important we enforce it the right way."

The Collin County conservative lawmaker has become an unlikely advocate in the fight to commute Wood's sentence. The Kerville man who has been on death row since 1996.

"I know it's not common to see a 'law-and-order' Republican fight a death sentence," Leach said, "but this case isn't like any I've seen before."

Wood was the getaway driver in a gas station robbery in Kerr County in 1996. Police say Wood was outside when his accomplice went in and shot and killed the clerk.

Witnesses said Wood had asked his accomplice to leave his gun at home and that the shooter agreed, but went back and grabbed his firearm when Wood wasn't looking.

"He was operating under the belief that his friend didn't have a gun," Leach said.

Under Texas law, a person can be sentenced to death even if they didn't physically kill someone, if prosecutors can prove the criminal helped plan or carry out the attack.

Leach says that was not the case with Wood.

"We even have the father of the victim saying he shouldn't be put to death," Leach said. "That says something."

Four days before Wood was to be put to death, the criminal court of appeals ordered a stay on the execution. Wood's sister, Terri Been, believes without Rep. Leach's support, that might not have happened.

"He is a Godsend," she said. "He is my hero right now."

Leach says he got the support of 50 lawmakers -- more than a third of the state house -- from both sides of the aisle.

"It's good to see we can work together on a cause, even when we don't agree on everything," Leach said.

The representative says Wood is not innocent and deserves to pay for his crime, but that punishment shouldn't be his life.

"I've prayed about this a lot, and I feel God put this family and this cause in my life for a reason," Leach said.

Now that Wood's execution has been put on hold, his case will go back to the state court.

Wood's sister Terri says there is still a long fight ahead, but with Leach in their corner, she feels hopeful.

"I haven't had hope in a long time, and it's back now, thanks to him," she said.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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