criminal justice, faith, institutions, literary journalism, murder, prison, violence

My Brother’s Keeper

It is rare that I promote my work–I’m bad at that–but this one is more urgent. In fact, it is quite literally a matter of life and death.

I’d like to bring to your attention my February cover story for Pacific Standard Magazine, “My Brother’s Keeper: When her brother is sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit, one woman takes on the corrosive culture of capital punishment.”

The article describes Terri Been’s fight to save the life of her kid brother, Jeff Wood. A 44-year-old man with a learning disorder and mental health issues, Jeff has languished on death row in Texas for the past 22 years. During trial, Jeff, who drove the getaway car in a robbery, was allowed to basically represent himself. He received no mitigation, and the prosecutor, Lucy Wilke, used the notorious “psychiatrist” James Grigson, also known as Dr. Death, to prove to the jury that Jeff will “with absolute certainty kill again” (even though, as you will learn in the piece, everyone agrees that he never killed anyone in the first place). Grigson agreed to testify, even though he never even met Jeff, let alone examined him.

It is no exaggeration when I say that I have never written a more important, more traumatizing and more time-intensive piece.

Jeff’s execution–his second execution date, in fact–was stayed in 2016 because of the taint of Grigson’s testimony. (His first execution, in 2008, was stayed because of his mental health issues.) Jeff’s family is expecting the courts to respond to their Habeas Corpus petition in the coming weeks. There are two possible outcomes: Either he will be granted a new trial or he’ll receive a third execution date.

I hope you’ll consider my article about Jeff and his family’s struggle.

(Photos by Jérôme Sessini)

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