Clemency

INNOCENCE: Alabama Lawmakers Unanimously Vote to Pardon Scottsboro Boys

On April 4, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 103-0 in favor of a bill to posthumously pardon the "Scottsboro Boys," nine black teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of the rape of two white women in 1931. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 29-0, and Gov. Robert Bentley has indicated he will sign it. All but one of the group were sentenced to death by all-white juries with virtually no legal representation. The military had to protect them from angry mobs. They lingered on death row for years. Eventually, after several arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court on the right to counsel and proper selection of juries, all of them were freed without execution. Through the years of appeals, one of the women who accused the group of rape recanted and said the claim was a lie. Sen. Arthur Orr, a Republican sponsor of the bill, said, "Their lives were ruined by the convictions. By doing this, it sends a very positive message nationally and internationally that this is a different state than we were many years ago." The last of the group of defendants died in 1989. (photo: Brown Brothers, Sterling, PA).

Maryland Takes Crucial Step Towards Death Penalty Repeal

On February 21, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee of Maryland approved (6-5) a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole. In prior years, the effort to end capital punishment was often blocked in this committee. Senator Robert Zerkin was one legislator who changed his mind this year, "As heinous and awful as these individuals [on death row] are, I think it's time for our state not to be involved in the apparatus of executions," he said. The bill outlaws future death sentences and recommends that current death sentences be commuted by the governor to life without parole. There appear to be sufficient votes for repeal in the Senate and the House, and Governor Martin O’Malley has pledged to sign the bill. A final vote in the Senate is expected by Feb. 26. The bill garnered support from a coalition of murder victims’ families, communities of color, law enforcement officials, faith leaders, civil rights leaders, and other prominent individuals, including Kirk Bloodsworth--who was freed from the state’s death row--Vicki Schieber--a Maryland resident whose daughter was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998--Catholic Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, and Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP. The governor has pledged to use some of the money saved from not having the death penalty to support victims' services. If Maryland repeals the death penalty, it will become the sixth state to do so in the past six years. Other states considering repeal of the death penalty, include Montana, Colorado, Kentucky, Oregon, and Delaware.

Ohio Parole Board Recommends Clemency Because of Inadequate Representation

UPDATE: (Dec. 17). Gov. Kasich granted clemency to Ronald Post, following the Parole Board's recommendation. On December 14, the Ohio Parole Board (5-3) recommended clemency for death row inmate Ronald Post, saying his legal representation was ineffective and did not meet expectations for a death penalty case. Post is currently scheduled for execution on January 16, 2013.  The Board's recommendation concluded: "[A] majority of the members of the Board find it impossible to overlook the glaring omissions, missed opportunities, and questionable tactical decisions made by Post's several attorneys. The various deficiencies in Post's representation, viewed in totality, call into question whether Post's death sentence was imposed through the kind of just and credible process called for by a punishment of this magnitude." His lawyers issued a statement, saying, "In the nearly 30 years since his case began, Ronald Post has too often been failed by the attorneys assigned to represent him, beginning at his trial." Post's original attorney advised him to plead no contest to the charges against him, with the expectation that he would receive a life sentence. Instead, Post was sentenced to death. Despite his plea, Post has maintained his innocence, and there was evidence of other suspects involved in the crime. The final clemency decision is up to Gov. John Kasich.  

UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Mentally Ill Oklahoma Inmate To Die Nov. 6

Garry Allen is scheduled for execution in Oklahoma on November 6, the third date set for him this year. Allen's execution has been stayed repeatedly due to questions about his mental competence. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as dementia caused by seizures, drug abuse, and a gunshot wound to his head sustained during his arrest. In 2008, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his death sentence be commuted by a 4-1 vote. Governor Mary Fallin granted a stay in order to consider the Board's recommendation, but denied clemency.  Allen murdered his wife 26 years ago, after she had left him and taken their two children.

Family of Man Executed in Texas Seeks Posthumous Pardon

The family of Cameron Todd Willingham announced they will petition the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him a posthumous pardon based on new evidence that has emerged since his execution in 2004. Willingham was sentenced to death for the murder of his three children in a housefire in 1991. At his trial, investigators testified that Willingham had intentionally set the fire, but later developments in the science of fire investigation have led experts to believe the fire was accidental. The other evidence presented at Willingham's trial included the testimony of a jailhouse informant who later recanted his statement that Willingham admitted to the crime. The family's petition states, "[S]ince his trial, scientific advances have shattered every assumption underlying the testimony of the two fire investigators who declared to the jury and the court that Willingham had set the fire that killed his children. In fact, today, no credible arson expert would make such a declaration." In a statement, Willingham's family said, "It was Todd's last wish that we help clear his name. It's time for the state of Texas to own up to its mistake and give Todd the justice he deserves." The Innocence Project in New York has taken the lead in working for Willingham's exoneration.

UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Texas Defendant Asks Pardons Board to Look Beyond Single Crime

Anthony Haynes is seeking clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Haynes was only 19 when he killed an off-duty police officer who stopped his car in Houston. He had no prior criminal record. His defense lawyers failed to present mitigating evidence that was available at the time of his trial. More than three dozen people have signed statements saying they would have been willing to testify that Haynes’ crime was extremely out of character and that he was known for being a respectful and non-violent teenager. The jury also never heard about Haynes’ history of mental health problems. Among those who have requested clemency is his father, a retired Assistant Chief Investigator with the Houston Fire Department. He said, “The execution of my son by the State of Texas will have a devastating effect on my whole life….Since Anthony is my only child, one of my main purposes for living will be taken away from me by his execution. I am asking you to spare my son’s life, because I know the decisions he made as a teenager are not the decisions he has made as a man. My son is a changed person who has a heart of remorse for taking Sgt. Kincaid’s life.”  Haynes is scheduled for execution on October 18.

Philadelphia Judge Cites Withheld Evidence in Granting New Sentencing Trial to Terrance Williams

On September 28, Philadelphia Judge M. Teresa Sarmina granted a stay of execution and a new sentencing hearing to Terrance Williams because the prosecutors suppressed important mitigating evidence. The evidence, which could have been presented at trial, indicated the prosecutors knew that Amos Norwood, Williams’s victim, had been a pedophile who sexually abused Williams. The judge’s decision came a day after the Board of Pardons agreed to reconsider Williams’s clemency plea.  On September 17, the Board had voted to allow the execution to proceed. Williams’s defense lawyers also argued that the trial prosecutor struck a deal with Marc Draper, Williams’s accomplice, in exchange for Draper’s testimony that the killing occurred during a robbery, and was unrelated to prior sexual abuse. Williams’s execution had been scheduled for October 3. He would have been the first person executed with full appeals in Pennsylvania since 1962.

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."

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