Renee Wood sues Oregon for blocking marriage to convicted killer

jsowell@idahostatesman.comMarch 29, 2014 

Renee McKenzie

A Nampa woman filed suit this week against Oregon corrections officials for refusing to allow her to marry a convicted murderer serving two life sentences for the 1988 kidnapping, torture and murder of a gay Utah college student.

Renee Shereen-Anderson Wood, formerly Renee McKenzie, 44, the ex-wife of state Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, filed the complaint in federal court in Portland. The filing, first reported by The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, seeks an injunction allowing her and inmate Lance Conway Wood, 46, to get married and to be granted enhanced prison visitations.

Renee Wood, who changed her last name after her divorce from Curt McKenzie last fall, said prison officials in Oregon and in Idaho, where Lance Wood was previously housed, have punished them because he filed several lawsuits over the years.

"(The) plaintiff has a right to marry in the pursuit of happiness and to express her religious faith and dedication to Mr. Wood," Renee Wood wrote in the court document.

When Renee Wood drove to the Eastern Oregon Correctional Facility in Pendleton in February, the first time she was allowed to visit Lance Wood in 12 months, the couple were allowed a one-hour visit with glass separating them. They had expected to have a "privileged" visit, lasting two and a half hours without the glass separating them. They would have been allowed to hold hands and have a brief hug and kiss.

Renee Wood said prison officials denied earlier requests for "special visits," citing an Oregon law that said her presence could be a threat to the "safety and security" of the staff, other inmates and visitors. She said she has no criminal record and those without an arrest are routinely approved for privileged visits and allowed to marry.

Last April, the Ada County Sheriff's Office opened an investigation into whether Renee Wood, a legal assistant who previously worked for her ex-husband's law firm, was practicing law without a license. She had become an advocate for prison reform and was allowed visits to Lance Wood in that capacity while he was incarcerated in Idaho.

In February, Ada County Prosecutor Grew Bower said he would not file charges against Renee Wood for practicing without a license and for bringing contraband into prison.

Lance Wood and Michael A. Arhuleta met Gordon Ray Church, a Southern Utah University theater student, and went cruising with him in Cedar City, Utah, on Nov. 21, 1988. They later attacked Church, cut his throat and bound him with tire chains and a bungee cord. They tortured him and left him for dead.

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