Four dozen evangelical leaders in Texas and across the nation issued an open letter Aug. 9 seeking to stop the execution of an 18-year death-row inmate scheduled to be executed Aug. 24.
Texans — including N. Larry Baker, a professor at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University and one-time head of the Southern Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission; Paul Basden, co-founder and senior pastor of Preston Trail Community Church in Frisco; Bill O’Brien, a former SBC International Mission Board administrator and Samford University professor who how serves as executive director of The Gaston Christian Center in Dallas — joined the diverse group asking Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons to stop the execution of Jeff Woods, a man with intellectual and emotional disabilities who drove a getaway car but did not pull the trigger during the Jan. 2, 1996, murder of a convenience store clerk during a robbery.
“Our faith compels us to speak out in this case, where a looming execution date threatens the life of an individual with significant mental impairments who never should have been sentenced to death,” the evangelical leaders pleaded. “Officials have a moral obligation to rectify this mistake and stop this execution while they still can.”
National figures joining the call included Mercer University professor David Gushee, Baptist historians Bill Leonard and Walter Shurden, and Fisher Humphreys, emeritus professor at Samford University.
“It deeply troubles us when the criminal justice system concludes that some of the most vulnerable in society can be executed and disposed of,” the letter said. “All are made in God’s image, and as a society we especially must protect those with mental illness and disabilities. Public officials must not shirk this responsibility. We urge them to act now to spare Wood’s life.”
Other names included LaMon Brown, a retired missionary of American Baptist Churches, USA; Valerie Burton, minister for Christian formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala.; Carolyn and Larry Dipboye, co-pastors of Grace Covenant Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Paul Richardson, former treasurer and board member of the Alliance of Baptists.