Monday, August 24, 2009

Texas serial killer receives stay of execution, but MHMR records turn up missing

From The El Paso Times:

EL PASO, Texas -- Lawyers for convicted serial killer David Leonard Wood (pictured) may have a hard time proving he is mentally retarded because several crucial records are missing.

A lawyer inadvertently lost or destroyed several of Wood's personal records, some dating back 40 years, according to court documents.

These records reflected Wood's alleged poor intellectual function, deficits in adaptive behavior and possible organic brain damage.

Wood, 52, is on death row for the 1987 murders of six teenage girls and young women in El Paso. He has denied killing them.

He was scheduled to die last week, but the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals blocked his execution and ordered a district court in El Paso to hear the evidence of mental retardation.

Unless the courts agree to grant him relief, this time Wood would have no other appeals left and probably would be executed.

According to court documents compiled by the defense, Wood's mother had a strong influence on the family as he was growing up. He was a loner who did not fit in with his peers and had trouble adjusting to normal responsibilities, such as doing chores.

One of four children, Wood was a year old when his parents separated. He went to a foster home. This happened again when he was between 10 and 13. Other times, he stayed with his parents in what his lawyers said was a hostile, dysfunctional home.

His mother, addicted to prescription drugs, spent six months at the Big Springs State Hospital. She received electric-shock treatments there and in El Paso.

"She didn't mother. She gave birth, but she didn't mother," said his father, Leo Wood.
Court documents said that as a result of his mother's psychological and drug-abuse problems, Wood's parents had a rough marriage. They divorced, remarried and divorced again.

Wood's sister Denise Coreas said, "Mom was horrible. She would just take off and leave without anyone to watch us. ... She resented her life and her children. She made my dad build a brick wall so that she wouldn't have to hear the kids in her bedroom anymore."

As a youngster, Wood wanted to belong but could not connect with his peers. He once invited several boys to his home, and they ended up stealing jewelry from the house. One analyst said this showed he was socially gullible.

"David fit in better with the younger crowd. He wasn't mature enough to fit in with kids his own age. He was insecure about being ridiculed," Coreas said.

The documents make no mention of Wood's brother, Randy Wood, or of what became of his mother.

His father, though, said Wood simply could not function as a child.

"David had no strengths in school," his father said. "He just could not do the work that his teachers gave him. He never read, and he did not understand numbers."

Wood flunked the first, third and ninth grades. He attended special-education classes and later a special school, but continued to perform poorly. He dropped out when he was 17 years old, a ninth-grader three years behind his peers.

He could not follow simple rules or hold down a job. A former employer described him as a slow learner, according to court records.

Two separate convictions for sex crimes followed. Wood served two prison sentences totaling about 10 years before he received his second parole in 1987. The El Paso serial killings began soon after he was freed.

Wood would become known as "The Desert Killer" because of where his victims' bodies were found. But the defense, relying on psychological portraits compiled over the years, presents him as somebody who had difficulty reasoning and handling simple matters.

Dr. Salvador Aguirre-Hauchbaum, a psychiatrist, said Wood displayed serious memory deficits and was capable of remembering only two objects after five minutes.

"He does not have the capacity to consider the pros and cons, the reasons for and against doing a particular act, whether it's right or wrong, weighing the consequences of that act," Aguirre-Hauchbaum said.

Dr. Donald T. Lunde, another psychiatrist, said Wood repeatedly was tested, and his IQ ran on average about 68. But, he said, Wood's true full-scale IQ may be closer to 56, after adjusting for changes in the test standards used to measure human intelligence.

Defense court documents said Wood also demonstrated below average intellectual functioning.

The Texas attorney general's staff will defend the 1992 death sentence against Wood, and seek to prove he does not meet the legal standard for mental retardation that would make him ineligible for capital punishment.