Tremane Wood was sentenced to death for the 2001 murder of Ronnie Wipf. File Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections
June 17 (UPI) — A convicted murderer who is among 25 death row prisoners the state is seeking to execute in the next couple of years filed an appeal Friday saying his trial lawyer was addicted to cocaine and other substances and didn’t provide effective counsel.
Tremane Wood, who is identified as “Termane” in some court records, was sentenced to death for the first-degree murder of Ronnie Wipf in 2001, in Oklahoma City.
His brother, Zjaiton “Jake” Wood, who said he was the one who stabbed Wipf to death, received a life sentence for the crime.
Tremane Wood’s lawyers said that in addition to not being the one who actually killed Wipf, he should receive post-conviction relief because their client’s court-appointed trial lawyer was addicted to cocaine, alcohol and prescription pills at the time of his case.
The attorneys said they have evidence showing the trial lawyer, Johnny Albert, received cocaine as payment from at least one other client during the period.
The addiction, court documents said, “contributed to his numerous failures to subject the prosecution’s case against Mr. Wood to meaningful adversarial testing.”
Albert provided a sworn affidavit saying he didn’t have time to adequately prepare for Tremane Wood’s case, that he was “drinking on a regular basis,” and had “met with him on a very limited basis and only when we were in court.”
“Tremane Wood sits on death row while the person who killed the victim received a life sentence,” his current attorney, Keith Hilzendeger, said. “The new evidence revealing the extent of his trial lawyer’s addiction and its effect on his representation of Mr. Wood undermines any confidence in the jury’s verdict.
“It would be unconscionable to allow Mr. Wood’s execution in light of this new evidence of grievous constitutional error.”
Because of his ineffective counsel, the application said the jurors in the case never learned of mitigating circumstances, including that Tremane Woods was neglected by his parents and learned to “survive by bonding with his abusive and violent older brother,” according to a news release.
“While Mr. Wood was condemned to die, his older brother — who admitted to the killing — received a life sentence after being vigorously represented by three experienced public defenders and two investigators with the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. Mr. Wood’s attorney, by contrast, was a contract lawyer who received a meager flat fee to represent Mr. Wood in his death penalty case,” the release said.
Albert represented two other capital defendants at the time of Tremane Wood’s case, both of whom were also sentenced to death. The two men — James Fisher and Keary Littlejohn — later received reduced sentences “due to the attorney’s grossly inadequate representation,” the release added.
Wipf’s death came on New Year’s Eve when Tremane Wood and his brother attempted to rob him and another man in their hotel room. The brothers entered the room, Tremane Wood with a knife and Jake Wood with a gun, demanding money.
During the ensuing scuffle, Wipf sustained a fatal stab wound. Jake Wood testified said that when he saw Wipf attacking his brother, he punched him, grabbed the knife from Tremane Wood, and stabbed Wipf in the chest.
Tremane Wood, 42, was named by Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor in court documents last week seeking execution dates for 25 death row prisoners. The request came days after a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled that the state’s three-drug lethal injection protocol isn’t likely to create a risk of severe pain and suffering and is therefore constitutional.
According to court documents, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections asked that the first execution be scheduled for no earlier than Aug. 25 and the executions be held at least four weeks apart.
O’Connor released a list of the prisoners in order of when they should be executed. Wood was 17th on the list, meaning his execution likely wouldn’t happen until at least 2024.