NEW VOICES: Former Prosecutor and Sentencing Judge Say Ohio Death Sentence Inappropriate

The prosecutor who helped secure the death sentence of John Eley (pictured) and one of the presiding judges who sentenced him to death recently asked the Ohio Parole Board to recommend clemency instead. Former Mahoning County prosecutor Gary Van Brocklin told the state parole board that Eley should be spared from execution because the type of crime he committed is no longer usually prosecuted as a death penalty case and is not so egregious as to deserve capital punishment. Van Brocklin said, "It wasn't in the more heinous nature of cases that now receive the death penalty." Van Brocklin also said that Eley was acting under the instruction of a man named Melvin Green, who was the mastermind behind the shooting. Green was acquitted of the murder, in part because Eley refused to testify against him. 

Judge Peter C. Economus, who is now a federal judge but who had voted for Eley's death sentence in Ohio, wrote to the Parole Board, saying he originally agreed with the death sentence only because Eley's attorneys presented little mitigating evidence:  "If I had been presented the additional mitigating evidence outlined in the clemency petition at the time of the trial, especially evidence of Mr. Eley's low intellectual functioning, his impoverished childhood, his significant alcohol and substance abuse, and his probable brain impairment, I would have voted for a sentence less than death."  The judge asked that clemency be given and expressed surprise that the sentence had not been lowered earlier by the courts.

UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Ohio Set to Execute Inmate with Severe Mental Illness

UPDATE2: Awkal was given a two-week stay by Gov. Kasich to allow time for a mental competency determination. Abdul Awkal (pictured) is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on June 6, despite evidence of his severe mental illness. Awkal lived through 8 years of a civil war in Lebanon, his home country, before escaping to Michigan.  He was sentenced to death for murdering his estranged wife and brother-in-law in 1992.  There were indications he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  At one point, the prosecution offered him a plea bargain that would have removed the possibility of a death sentence, but Awkal rejected the offer.  On two occasions, he was deemed by courts to be too mentally incompetent to assist in his own defense.  He was diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, depressed type. Awkal also has a history of mental breakdowns, suicidal depression and hallucinations.  He believes he advises the CIA on Islamic religion and culture, and claimed he is being executed because the CIA wants him dead.  Awkal's attorneys have asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to grant him clemency.  UPDATE: Gov. Kasich denied Awkal's clemency request on May 30.

CLEMENCY: Georgia Board Commutes Death Sentence of 'Model Prisoner'

On April 20, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles reduced the death sentence of Daniel Greene (pictured) to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Board had stayed Greene's execution, which was set for April 19, in order to further consider his clemency petition. Greene's petition included letters from several members of the Taylor County community, where the murder occurred, urging the Board to spare Greene's life. Among the letters was one from a former correctional officer, Randy Foster, who called Greene "as fine a man as I have ever met in my life," and said, "He is not like anyone else on death row. Daniel Greene is the type of person you want for an inmate. He has never given me (or anyone else as far as I know) even the hint of a problem." In his own letter to the Board, Greene apologized for the pain he caused the victim's family and said, "I was on drugs at the time, but I took the drugs with my hands, and I take the responsibility. That choice to do drugs and what I did after were the worst mistakes of my life. I do not blame the drugs. I blame myself for everything." This was the second clemency granted nationally in 2012 and the eighth granted in Georgia since 1976.

Oklahoma Execution Imminent Despite Board's Recommendation of Clemency

Oklahoma inmate Garry Allen (pictured) is scheduled for execution on April 12, despite a Pardon and Parole Board's 4-1 recommendation that his sentence be reduced to life without parole. In an unusual move, Mr. Allen originally pleaded guilty to murdering his girlfriend without receiving any benefit in sentencing, and has testified that he did so to spare his family and the victim's family the trauma of a trial. Allen was shot in the head at the time of his arrest.  His lawyers have argued that he is not sane and should not be executed because of his history of mental illness and alcoholism. His court records indicate "probable diagnosis is Schizophrenic Disorder, or Anxiety Disorder in a Paranoid Personality," but in 2008 a jury found him sane enough for execution. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has said she has reviewed the case and does not intend to grant clemency.  UPDATE: A federal judge has granted Allen a stay to explore issues of mental competency.  Oklahoma is appealing the stay to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit (April 12, 2012).

EDITORIALS: ABA Report Finds Serious Problems with Missouri's Death Penalty

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called upon leaders in Missouri to make numerous changes to the state's death penalty in light of a recent American Bar Association report produced by a bipartisan panel of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and law professors.  The editorial highlighted many of the ABA’s recommendations, including “improving evidence standards, increasing public defender funding and creating more accountability for prosecutors.” It also noted that the ABA found that Missouri's statute contains "[t]oo many aggravating circumstances — 17 of them, many vague — that make the application of the death penalty by prosecutors arbitrary. In Missouri, virtually any murder case could qualify for the death penalty."  The editors called on Governor Jay Nixon to address the lack of transparency in the clemency process: “Mr. Nixon alone could make one move that would bring honor and justice to the legal profession he loves without jeopardizing his standing as a fierce death penalty proponent. He can commit to a transparent clemency process for as long as he is governor. It's not good enough to spare one life while condemning another if the public doesn't know the reasoning behind either decision.” Read full editorial below.

MENTAL ILLNESS: Mississippi Inmate With Severe Mental Illness Faces Imminent Execution

Edwin Turner (pictured), a death row inmate in Mississippi, is scheduled for execution on February 8. His attorney, Jim Craig, has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court and Governor Phil Bryant for a reprieve, based in part on Turner's mental illness.  Craig said, “The Supreme Court has not decided the question of whether a prisoner with a severe mental disorder or disability which significantly impairs that person’s ability to rationally process information, to make reasonable judgments and to control their impulses, whether people in that category can be executed. So we’re asking the Supreme Court to establish that it would be contrary to consensus of moral values, that it would be cruel and unusual punishment, to execute someone with severe mental illness.”  Turner is facing execution for the 1995 shooting of a clerk and a customer at a gas station.  His accomplice received a sentence of life without parole after pleading guilty to murder.  Turner has a long family history of mental illness: his great-grandmother and grandmother were committed to state hospitals. Turner’s mother attempted suicide twice, and his father was killed in an explosion that some believe was a suicide.  Turner has also attempted suicide several times, including one instance that left his face permanently disfigured. UPDATE: Altlhough a federal District Court granted a stay on Feb. 6, the Court of Appeals lifted the stay on Feb. 8, and the state is planning to carry out the execution as scheduled.

Delaware Death Row Inmate Granted Clemency, Citing Evidence of Severe Childhood Abuse

On January 17, Delaware Governor Jack Markell commuted the death sentence of Robert Gattis (pictured) to life without parole, citing the defendant's troubled childhood. Gattis was scheduled for execution on January 20. By a 4-1 vote, the Delaware Board of Pardons had recommended sparing Gattis’s life, citing evidence from Gattis’s childhood that indicated severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by family members. In granting clemency, Gov. Markell stated: "Even if one were to discount certain of the allegations of sexual abuse recently alleged by Mr. Gattis (as the Board did), the fact remains that Mr. Gattis’s family background is among the most troubling I have encountered… My decision is among the most difficult I have had to make in all my years in public service. But in light of the Board’s unprecedented decision and the reasons set forth above, I believe it is the correct one under the circumstances.”  As a condition of clemency, Gattis must agree not to challenge his conviction or sentence and to not request a further commutation.

UPCOMING EXECUTION: Extreme Childhood Abuse of Delaware Defendant Never Presented to Jury

On January 3, attorneys for Robert Gattis (pictured) filed a clemency petition with the Delaware Board of Pardons, requesting they recommend commuting his death sentence to life without parole.  Gattis is scheduled for execution on January 20.  According to the petition, details of frequent sexual, physical and psychological abuse occuring during Gattis's childhood were never presented to the jury or the judge at the time of his sentencing.  As a pre-school child and through adolescence, Gattis was the victim of repeated rapes and molestations by multiple perpetrators, including both male and female family members.  John Deckers, an attorney for Gattis said, “The kind of sexual, physical and psychological abuse that Mr. Gattis suffered is precisely the kind of information that a sentencing judge and jury should know when deciding whether to sentence someone to life or death, but Mr. Gattis's sentencing judge and jury never knew this information.  They did not have an accurate picture of Mr. Gattis or the crime, and clemency is the mechanism that allows the Governor to correct such mistakes in the legal system.”  A pardons-board recommendation for clemency is necessary for Governor Jack Markell to commute the sentence.  Gattis was sentenced to death in 1992 for killing his former girlfriend.