Clemency

MENTAL ILLNESS: Evangelical Leaders Call for Mercy for Condemned Inmate

On September 26, Florida Governor Rick Scott (pictured) agreed to temporarily stay the pending execution of John Errol Ferguson in order to allow time for a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether Ferguson is mentally competent. The day before, evangelical leaders, including Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor of the 15,000-member Northland Church in Central Florida, sent a letter to the governor urging that Ferguson be allowed to live. They wrote, “The State’s psychiatrists have consistently found, over 40 years, that Mr. Ferguson suffers from severe schizophrenia and mental impairment. Now a senior citizen, he still suffers from delusions and hallucinations....The jurors at Mr. Ferguson’s sentencing hearings did not hear evidence of his extreme and long-term mental illness, the horrific abuse he experienced as a child, or the traumatic brain injury he suffered as a result of a gunshot wound to his head as a young man, which further contributed to his mental illness. Any one of these factors might have persuaded his juries to spare his life and sentence him to life in prison, but his attorneys failed to present any mitigating evidence to the jurors.”  The letter concluded, "Our system must be humane and hold life sacred, while taking every step possible to support and facilitate the healing of victims."

NEW VOICES: A Mother Shares Her Grief and Joins the Call for Mercy

When Vicki Schieber's (pictured) daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998, she and her family felt enormous grief.  "Losing a loved one to murder," she recently wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. At first, my husband and I didn't know how we could go on with our lives."  Nevertheless, because of their beliefs, "we did not want the man who murdered our daughter to be put to death."  Now she is speaking out in support of Mamie Norwood, whose husband was killed by Terrance Williams, a Pennsylvania death row inmate who is facing execution on October 3.  Norwood, like Schieber, opposes the killing of the man who caused her loss.  She wrote to the governor: "I wish to see his life spared."  Vicki Schieber's opposition to the death penalty was not well received at first: "When our preference for a sentence of life in prison was made public, many wondered whether our wishes should be honored. The district attorney even publicly questioned our emotional health."  She hoped for a better reaction from Philadelphia officials this time for Mrs. Norwood: "The governor and others must respect her wishes for the man who killed her husband and allow her to retain the peace she has found."  Read full op-ed below.

NEW VOICES: Philadelphia Archbishop Denounces Death Penalty and Urges Clemency for Terrance Williams

In his weekly column, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia voiced the Catholic Church's ongoing opposition to the death penalty in the U.S. and called for clemency for Pennsylvania death row inmate Terrance Williams. "We don’t need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty. And we should never be eager to take anyone’s life," the Archbishop said. He addressed the needs of murder victims' families, saying "Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. They bear a terrible burden of grief, and they rightly demand justice."  He concluded, "When we take a murderer’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process." He particularly urged clemency for Williams, who is scheduled to be executed in October.  Chaput noted that Williams' attorneys have said he "was repeatedly sexually abused as a youth, including five years of abuse at the hands of the man he murdered, and this helped motivate his violence....Terrance Williams deserves punishment. No one disputes that. But he doesn’t need to die to satisfy justice. We should think very carefully in the coming days about the kind of justice we want to witness to our young people."

Child Advocates, Former Prosecutors, and Victim’s Widow Urge Clemency for Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

In Pennsylvania--a state that has recently dealt with high-profile cases of child sexual abuse--one victim of such attacks is now facing execution.  On September 6, more than two dozen child advocates joined former jurors, the victim’s widow, as well as former prosecutors and judges in urging Governor Tom Corbett and the Board of Pardons to grant clemency to death row inmate Terrance Williams (pictured).  Williams suffered years of physical and sexual abuse from older males, and he eventually killed two of his abusers while in his teens. In a letter sent to Gov. Corbett, child advocates noted, “The evidence of abuse in this case is clear. There can be no doubt that Terry was repeatedly and violently abused and exploited as a child and teenager by manipulative older men. Terry’s acts of violence have, alas, an explanation of the worst sort: enveloped by anger and self-hatred, Terry lashed out and killed two of the men who sexually abused him and caused him so much pain.” In addition to child advocates and jurors, the victim’s widow supports clemency for Williams, who is deeply remorseful about his crimes. Mamie Norwood, the wife of Amos Norwood whom Williams kiiled, asked that he be spared, “I have come to forgive Mr. Williams. It has taken me many years. I want his life spared and I do not want him executed. I am at peace with my decision and I hope and pray that my wishes are respected.”

CLEMENCY: Daughter in Canada Asks Montana Governor to Spare Her Father's Life

Ronald Smith (pictured) is one of two Canadian citizens on death row in the United States. Smith is facing execution in Montana for the kidnapping and murder of two members of the Blackfeet Nation thirty years ago. Smith’s co-defendant, Rodney Munro, pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and was returned to Canada and released from jail in 1998. Munro credits Smith for saving his life, saying that he was given a plea deal and released because Smith admitted to the murders. Carmen Blackburn, Smith’s daughter, and her family recently had a one-hour audience with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to request clemency.  Blackburn said that although the Governor was still unsure of his decision, he did not feel that it is fair for Smith to be executed when his co-defendant was paroled. Blackburn also said that Gov. Schweitzer might be interested in speaking with her father before making a final decision. She said, “He did say he wouldn't mind meeting with my dad. It's one thing to hear about the remorse but when you hear it in my dad's voice and you see it in my dad's eyes — that's the difference. You can't fake remorse because your true colours always show through. You can see how much he regrets what he's done and wishes he could turn time back.”

Ohio Governor Grants Clemency Based on Defendant's Mental Capacity

On July 10, Ohio Governor John Kasich (pictured) granted clemency to death row inmate John Eley, who was scheduled to be executed on July 26.  Eley's sentence was reduced to life in prison without parole. The governor said he based his decision on evidence that Eley acted under the direction of another person, and that his mental capacity was limited, saying, "Without those factors it is doubtful that Eley would have committed this crime." The prosecutor in the case and one of the judges who sentenced Eley to death called for mercy. The Ohio Parole Board voted 5-3 against recommending clemency.  Those who voted for clemency said that Eley's crime was not one of the "worst of the worst," and that similar crimes rarely receive death sentences. This is the third death-row clemency granted by Gov. Kasich, including two issued in 2011.

EDITORIALS: "An Urgent Plea for Mercy"

A recent New York Times editorial encouraged the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reduce the sentence of death row inmate Warren Hill to life. Hill is facing execution on July 18.  The editorial noted that Mr. Hill's intellectual disabilities, including an IQ of 70, led the trial judge to find him mentally retarded. Georgia's Supreme Court, however, overturned the judge's ruling because mental retardation had not been proven "beyond a reasonable doubt." The Times noted that Georgia "is the only state with a statute requiring a defendant to meet [this] unfairly heavy burden," and added, "This unjust procedural requirement effectively denies protection for the mentally impaired, as required by the Eighth Amendment." The Times also said that clemency is appropriate for Hill because some jurors have said they would have sentenced him to life without parole if given the option, and the victim's family has said he should not be executed. See the full editorial below.

Georgia Inmate Scheduled to Die Despite Initial Finding of Intellectual Disabilities

Warren HillWarren Hill (pictured) is scheduled to be executed on July 18 in Georgia despite being previously found intellectually disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court in Atkins v. Virgnia (2002) banned the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities (mental retardation), but allowed each state to set guidelines for determining whether an inmate has such a condition. In Georgia, capital defendants are required to prove “mental retardation” beyond a reasonable doubt. It is the only state in the country that sets such a high burden of proof for such claims.  Earlier, a state judge found that Hill was intellectually disabled, but under a lower legal threshhold than is required in the statute. In 2003, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the judge’s ruling in a 4-3 vote, holding that Hill’s lawyers had failed to clear the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the Georgia Supreme Court. Writing for the majority, Judge Frank Hull said federal law "mandates that this federal court leave the Georgia Supreme Court decision alone — even if we believe it incorrect or unwise." Brian Kammer, one of Hill’s lawyers, said he will ask the Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Hill clemency. Kammer said, “Executing Warren Hill, a 52-year-old man whom a court has found to be more likely than not mentally retarded, would be a terrible miscarriage of justice.”  UPDATE: On July 16, Georgia's Board of Pardons denied clemency. UPDATE: Georgia's Supreme Court stayed Hill's execution to review the state's lethal injection protocol. UPDATE 1/28/15: Warren Hill was executed on January 27, 2015. 

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