Since 1976, 286 death row prisoners have been granted clemency for humanitarian reasons. Humanitarian reasons include doubts about the defendant's guilt or judgments about the death penalty by the governor. The clemency process varies from state to state, typically involving the governor or a board of advisors, or both.
Since 1976, there have been six broad grants of clemency to death row prisoners:
Gov. Martin O'Malley in Maryland in 2015 (all inmates)
Gov. Pat Quinn in Illinois in 2011 (all inmates), just before signing bill repealing death penalty
Gov. Jon Corzine (pictured) in New Jersey in 2007 (all inmates), just before signing bill repealing death penalty
Gov. George Ryan in Illinois in 2003 (all inmates)
Gov. Richard Celeste in Ohio in 1991(8 inmates)
Gov. Toney Anaya in New Mexico in 1986 (all inmates)
There were six notable grants of broad clemency prior to the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976:
Governor Winthrop Rockefeller (pictured) commuted all death sentences in Arkansas in 1971.
Governor Frank Clement commuted all the death sentences in Tennessee in 1965, after the legislature defeated an abolition bill by a single vote.
Governor Endicott "Chub" Peabody of Massachusetts commuted every death sentence (1962-1964).
Governor Robert D. Holmes of Oregon commuted every death sentence that arose during his term (1957-1959).
Governor Mark Hatfield of Oregon commuted every death sentence after the death penalty was abolished by state referendum in 1964.
Governor Lee Cruce of Oklahoma commuted every death sentence imposed during his administration (1911-1915).
(Sources: Cathleen Burnett, "Justice Denied," Northeastern University Press, 2002, p. 162 (Ark., Mass., Ore. (Holmes), Okla.); M. Gottschalk, "The Prison and the Gallows," Cambridge Press, 2006, p. 213 (Tenn.); M. Kramer, "Oregon's Death Penalty," Oregon State Bar Bulletin, Nov. 1996 (Ore.-Hatfield)).
Clemency News and Developments - Current Year
Clemency News and Developments - Previous Years
|Year||Name||Race||State||Reason for Commutation|
|1977||1. Charles Harris Hill||B||GA||Granted under Gov. George Busbee by Pardons Board. Death sentence was disproportional to the sentence given to his equally or more culpable co-defendant, the actual killer*|
|1979||2. Learie Leo Alford||B||FL||Granted by Gov. Bob Graham. Possible innocence*|
|3. Clifford Hallman||W||FL||Granted by Gov. Bob Graham. Death sentence was inappropriate for the crime*|
|1980||4. Darrell Edwin Hoy||W||FL||Granted by Gov. Bob Graham. Death sentence was disproportional to the sentence given to his equally or more culpable co-defendant, the triggerman *|
|5. Richard Henry Gibson||B||FL||Granted by Gov. Bob Graham. Death sentence was disproportional to the sentence given to his equally culpable co-defendants *|
|1981||6. Michael Salvatore||W||FL||Granted by Gov. Bob Graham. Disparities in sentences between Salvatore and two others involved in the crime*|
|1983||7. Jesse Rutledge||B||FL||Granted by Gov. Bob Graham. Possible innocence*|
|1986||8.Eddie Lee Adams||B||NM||Commutations (5) by Gov. Toney Anaya because of his position on the death penalty|
|9. Joel Lee Compton||W||NM||see #8|
|10. Richard Garcia||H||NM||see #8|
|11. William Gilbert||W||NM||see #8|
|12. Michael Guzman||H||NM||see #8|
|1987||13. Doris Ann Foster||W||MD||Gov. Hughes, a death penalty opponent, commuted the sentence because of doubts about Foster's guilt*|
|1988||14. Freddie Davis||W||GA||Granted under Gov. Joe Frank Harris. Board of Pardons and Paroles found that Davis' death sentence was disproportional to the life sentence given to his equally or more culpable co-defendant*|
|15. David Cameron Keith||W||MT||Granted by Gov. Ted Schwinden. Reasons reportedly included Keith's partial paralysis and blindness, remorse, religious conversion, and the possibility that he may have shot the victim as a reflex action*|
|1989||16. Ronald Monroe||B||LA||Gov. Roemer had doubts about Monroe's guilt*|
|1990||17. William Moore||B||GA||Granted under Gov. Joe Frank Harris. Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted Moore's sentence citing his exemplary prison record, remorse, religious conversion, and the pleas for clemency from the victim's family*|
|1991||18. Debra Brown||B||OH||Citing a "disturbing racial pattern" in death sentencing, Gov. Richard Celeste granted clemency to 8 death row inmates as he was leaving office. Celeste stated that he selected cases based on the inmates' crimes, the fairness of sentences, mental health and IQ, and length of time served.|
|19. Rosalie Grant||B||OH||see #18|
|20. Elizabeth Green||B||OH||see #18|
|21. Leonard Jenkins||B||OH||see #18|
|22. Willie Jester||B||OH||see #18|
|23. Beatrice Lampkin||B||OH||see #18|
|24. Donald Lee Maurer||W||OH||see #18|
|25. Lee Seiber||W||OH||see #18|
|26. Joseph Giarratano||W||VA||Granted by Gov. Douglas Wilder. Possible innocence*|
|27. Harold Williams||W||GA||Granted under Gov. Zell Miller. Board of Pardons and Paroles found that Williams' death sentence was disproportional to the sentence given to his accomplice, who took full responsibility for the crime*|
|1992||28. Herbert Bassette||B||VA||Granted by Gov. Douglas Wilder. Possible innocence|
|29. Anson Avery Maynard||N||NC||Granted by Gov. James G. Martin. Possible innocence|
|1993||30. Bobbie Shaw||B||MO||Gov. Mel Carnahan said there was "little doubt that Mr. Shaw is mentally retarded and suffers from varying degrees of mental illness." (Wash. Post, June 3, 1993). The jury that sentenced him had not been told of his disabilities.|
|1994||31. Earl Washington||B||VA||Granted by Gov. Douglas Wilder. Possible innocence1|
|1996||32. Gwen Garcia||W||IL||Granted by Gov. Jim Edgar. Death sentence was inappropriate for the crime. (Garcia had waived her appeals.)|
|33. Joseph Payne||W||VA||Granted by Gov. George Allen. Possible innocence.|
|34. Donald Paradis||W||ID||Granted by Gov. Phil Batt. Possible innocence (In April 2001, Paradis' murder conviction was overturned and he was released from prison)|
|1997||35. William Saunders||B||VA||Granted by Gov. George Allen. Rehabilitation of inmate. Prosecutor and judge from trial recommended clemency|
|1998||36. Henry Lee Lucas||W||TX||Granted by Gov. George W. Bush. Possible innocence|
|1999||37. Judith Ann Neelley||W||AL||Gov. Forrest H. James, Jr., as he was leaving office, did not initially give a reason. In a 2002 interview, he said he granted clemency because the jury had recommended a sentence of life in prison, but the judge overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Neelley to death.|
|38. Darrell Mease||W||MO||Granted by Gov. Mel Carnahan at Pope John Paul II's request during visit|
|39. Bobby Ray Fretwell||W||AR||Granted by Gov. Mike Huckabee. One juror told Gov. he felt pressured to vote for death but didn't support the sentence.|
|40. Calvin Swann||B||VA||Gov. James Gilmore noted that prison officials said Swann's behavior on death row had been "nothing short of bizarre and totally devoid of rationality." The prosecuting attorney said that he would not have sought the death penalty if life without parole had been available at the time. Gilmore noted that the jury had been misinformed about the degree of Swann's mental illness. (Wash. Post, May 3, 1999).|
|41. Wendell Flowers||B||NC||Gov. Jim Hunt had doubts about the extent of Flowers' involvement in the crime.|
|2000||42. Eugene Colvin-el||B||MD||Gov. Parris Glendening was uncertain of Colvin-el's guilt.|
|43. Marcus Carter||B||NC||Gov. Jim Hunt had doubts about the fairness of Carter's trial.|
|2001||44. David Ronald Chandler||W||Fed.||President Clinton granted clemency because Chandler's principal accuser changed his testimony, casting doubt on Chandler's guilt.|
|45. Phillip Dewitt Smith||B||OK||Gov. Francis A. Keating had doubts about Smith's guilt.|
|46. Robert Bacon, Jr.||B||NC||Gov. Mike Easley stated that life imprisoment was the "appropriate sentence."
(defense raised concerns that defendant was sentenced to death because of his race)
|2002||47. Charlie Mason Alston||B||NC||Gov. Mike Easley stated that life imprisoment was the "appropriate sentence."
(defense raised serious doubts about client's guilt)
|48. Alexander Williams||B||GA||Granted under Gov. Roy Barnes. The Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to commute Williams's sentence to life without parole because he suffered from mental illness and was a juvenile at the time of the crime.|
|49. Thomas Nevius||B||NV||Granted under Gov. Kenny C. Guinn. The Nevada Pardons Board, chaired by Governor Guinn, voted unanimously to grant clemency to Thomas Nevius, a mentally retarded inmate. The commuation to a sentence of life without parole came after the U.S. Supreme Court banned the practice of executing those with "mental retardation".|
|2003||50. Aaron Patterson||B||IL||Illinois Governor George Ryan granted four pardons on January 10, 2003, because he concluded the inmates were innocent.|
|51. Madison Hobley||B||IL||see #50|
|52. Leroy Orange||B||IL||see #50|
|53. Stanley Howard||B||IL||see #50|
(click here for names)
|IL||On January 11, 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted the sentences of the 167 death row prisoners, citing the flawed process that led to these sentences. Three prisoners' sentences were commuted to 40 years in prison with the possibility of parole. The other prisoners' sentences were commuted to life in prison without parole. Some of the commutations were of prisoners who were awaiting sentencing or resentencing. (Chicago Tribune, January 12, 2003 and Chicago Tribune, January 15, 2003)|
|221. Herbert Welcome||B||LA||Governor Foster concurred with the Pardon and Parole Board recommendation based upon U.S. Supreme Court's decision on "mental retardation" in Atkins v. Virginia. (Associated Press, May 10, 2003).|
|222. Jerome Campbell||B||OH||Governor Taft concurred with the Pardon and Parole Board recommendation based on doubts regarding DNA evidence unavailable at trial. (Associated Press, June 26, 2003).|
|223. Kevin Stanford||B||KY||Governor Paul Patton, declaring that the justice system "perpetuated an injustice," based his decision upon Stanford's age (17) at the time of the crime. The pardon, which reduced Stanford's sentence to Life Without Parole, was made official by Governor Patton on December 8, 2003.|
|2004||224. Willie James Hall||B||GA||Granted under Gov. Sonny Perdue. The state parole board of Georgia commuted Hall's death sentence to life without parole on January 26, 2004, after six jurors testified that they would have chosen life without parole were it offered at trial. Hall's excellent behavior in prison and no criminal record prior to the murder was also a factor in the board's decision. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 26, 2004)|
|225. Osvaldo Torres||L||OK||Governor Brad Henry commuted the death sentence of Osvaldo Torres to Life without Parole on May 13, 2004. Henry said that it was "important to remember that the actual shooter in these horrific murders was also sentenced to death and faces execution." Henry also stated that he "concluded that there is a possibility a significant miscarriage of justice occurred... specifically that the violation of his Vienna Convention Rights contributed to trial counsel's ineffectiveness, that the jury did not hear significant evidence, and that the result of the trial is unreliable." (The Oklahoman, May 14, 2004) Henry's decision followed a recommendation for clemency by the Pardon and Parole Board and stay granted by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals following the International Court of Justice ruling that the rights of Torres and 50 other Mexican national on America's death rows under the Vienna convention were violated.|
|226. Darnell Williams||B||IN||Governor Joe Kernan commuted the death sentence of Williams to Life in prison without parole on the basis that Williams' co-defendant initially received a life sentence and thus executing Williams would be unfair. [ More ] (AP, July 2, 2004)|
|2005||227. Michael Daniels||B||IN||Governor Joe Kernan commuted the death sentence of Daniels to life imprisonment without parole because of doubts about Daniels' personal responsibility for the crime and the quality of legal process leading to his death sentence. Evidence had emerged about Daniels' mental status and about whether he was the triggerman in the underlying murder. (Indianapolis Star, January 8, 2005.)|
|228. Arthur P. Baird II||W||IN||Governor Mitch Daniels commuted the death sentence of Baird, who is severely mentally ill to life without parole because that sentence was not available at the time of Baird's sentencing but is available now and many of the jurors in the trial and the family of the victims believe that Baird deserved life without parole due to his mental illness. (Indianapolis Star, August 29, 2005.)|
|229. Robin Lovitt||B||VA||Governor Mark Warner commuted the death sentence of Lovitt to life without parole because a state court clerk had illegally destroyed evidence from Lovitt's trial that could have been used in his appeals. The governor believed a clemency was necessary to maintain the public's trust in the justice system. (Office of the Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia, November 29, 2005).|
|2007||230. Kenneth Foster||B||TX||Governor Rick Perry2 concurred with the 6-1 recommendation from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to commute Foster's death sentence, stating: "I am concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously and it is an issue I think the Legislature should examine." Foster did not kill the victim but drove the car carrying the shooter. He was tried at the same time as the actual shooter, who also received a death sentence. (Associated Press, August 30, 2007).|
|231. Michael Boyd||B||TN||Gov. Phil Bredesen commuted the death sentence of Michael Joe Boyd, who had been sentenced to die on Oct. 24, 2007, to life in prison without parole Friday, citing ineffective legal counsel at his sentencing and procedural limitations on his appeals. (Nashville Post, September 14, 2007).|
|232. Jeffrey Leonard||B||KY||
Gov. Ernie Fletcher commuted Leonard's death sentence to a life sentence without parole in December 2007. Fletcher said Leonard was not provided adequate representation by his attorney, Fred Radolovich, who has admitted he didn't even know Leonard's name during the trial. (Lexington Herald-Leader, December 11, 2007).
|233. Marko Bey||B||NJ||On December 16, Gov. Jon Corzine commuted the sentences of everyone (8) on death row to life without parole. On December 17, he signed the bill abolishing the death penalty in New Jersey. (CNN, December 17, 2007).|
|234. David Cooper||B||NJ||see #233|
|235. Ambrose Harris||B||NJ||see #233|
|236. Nathaniel Harvey||B||NJ||see #233|
|237. Sean Kenney||W||NJ||see #233|
|238. John Martini||W||NJ||see #233|
|239. Jessie Timmendequas||W||NJ||see #233|
|240. Brian Wakefield||B||NJ||see #233|
|2008||241. John Spirko||W||OH||Gov. Ted Strickland reduced Spirko's death sentence to life without parole. In his statement granting clemency, the governor cited "the lack of physical evidence linking him to the murder, as well as the slim residual doubt about his responsibility for the murder that arises from careful scrutiny of the case record." (Warrant of Commutation, Governor of Ohio, January 9, 2008)|
|242. Samuel David Crowe||W||GA||Granted under Gov. Sonny Perdue. The Board of Pardons and Paroles did not provide a reason for commuting Crowe’s sentence to life without parole. However, considerable testimony from friends, pastors and even a former corrections officer was presented to the board emphasizing his exemplary behavior and deep remorse while on death row. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 23, 2008).|
|243. Percy Walton||B||VA||Gov. Timothy Kaine commuted Percy Walton’s death sentence to life in prison without parole, citing his serious mental illness that rendered him incompetent to be executed. The governor said that Walton was not cognizant of his impending execution and the reason for it. Gov. Kaine had twice previously stayed Walton's execution in order to evaluate his mental condition and competency. The governor said that he also considered other factors such as his age at the time of the crime and evidence of "mental retardation". (Washington Post, June 10, 2008; Governor Kaine's statement of clemency, June 9, 2008).|
|244. Kevin Young||B||OK||Following the recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Brad Henry granted clemency to Kevin Young, commuting his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The Board's recommendation of clemency was based on several factors, including the disproportionality of the punishment, questionable witnesses, and a decision during the original trial to turn down a plea bargain that would have resulted in a life sentence. (The Oklahoman, July 24, 2008.)|
|2009||245. Jeffrey Hill||B||OH||
Governor Ted Strickland commuted Hill's death sentence to 25 years to life, following the Ohio Parole Board's unanimous recommendation that Hill not be put to death. In granting clemency, Gov. Strickland expressed his agreement with the board's findings: "the views of the victim’s family, the lack of adequate representation by counsel at Mr. Hill’s sentencing, the remorse demonstrated by Mr. Hill regarding his actions, the lack of proportionality of the sentence of death in this case when compared with similar murder cases, and the expressed views of two justices of the Ohio Supreme Court which reviewed this case on appeal." (Governor's Statement Regarding Clemency Application of Jeffrey D. Hill, February 12, 2009).
|246. Richard Tandy Smith||W||OK||
Governor Brad Henry commuted sentence to life without the possibility of parole as recommended by the State Pardon and Parole Board. (Office of the Governor, May 19, 2010, and Associated Press). LWOP was not available at the time of Smith's sentencing. The governor believed LWOP would be the more appropriate sentence.
|247. Richard Nields||W||OH||
Governor Ted Strickland commuted the sentence of Richard Nields, granting clemency on June 4, based on a recommendation by the board questioning the validity of medical evidence used at Nields' trial that helped support a death sentence. (Columbus Dispatch, June 4, 2010).
|248. Gaile Owens||W||TN||Governor Phil Bredesen commuted the sentence of Gaile Owens to life in prison based partly on a plea bargain offer that was later rescinded, and partly to make the sentence consistent with verdicts delivered in similar cases in Tennessee. (The Tenneseean, July 14, 2010).|
|249. Kevin Keith||B||OH||Governor Ted Strickland commuted the death sentence of Kevin Keith to life without parole on September 2. Strickland granted clemency based on legitimate questions that have been raised regarding the evidence that led to his conviction as well as concerns regarding the investigation of his case. (Governor's Statement, September 2, 2010).|
|250. Sidney Cornwell||B||OH||Governor Ted Strickland granted clemency based on attorney arguments that Cornwell grew up in an abusive environment and that he suffered from a genetic condition that contributed to his violent tendencies. The attorneys also said that Cornwell's death sentence was disproportionate to sentences handed out for similar killings in Mahoning County, and that the jury did not have the option of giving him a life sentence without the possibility of parole. (The Vindicator, November 15, 2010).|
|2011||251. Richard Clay||W||MO||Governor Jay Nixon commuted Clay's sentence to life in prison without parole. The governer did not give a reason, but supporters presented evidence of possible innocence. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 11, 2011).|
|252. Jerome Harbison||B||TN||Gov. Bredesen commuted sentence to life in prison without parole to bring sentence in line with others in the state. (Associated Press, January 12, 2011).|
|253. Rodney Adkins||B||IL||On March 9th, Gov. Pat Quinn commuted the sentences of everyone (15) on death row to life without parole and signed the bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. (ABC News, March 9, 2011).|
|254. Teodoro Baez||L||IL||See #253|
|255. Dion Banks||B||IL||See #253|
|256. Joseph Bannister||B||IL||See #253|
|257. David Damm||W||IL||See #253|
|258. Brian Dugan||W||IL||See #253|
|259. Eric Hanson||W||IL||See #253|
|260. Ricardo Harris||B||IL||See #253|
|261. Laurence Lovejoy||B||IL||See #253|
|262. Anthony Mertz||W||IL||See #253|
|263. Gary Pate||W||IL||See #253|
|264. Daniel Ramsey||W||IL||See #253|
|265. Paul Runge||L||IL||See #253|
|266. Cecil Sutherland||W||IL||See #253|
|267. Andrew Urdiales||W||IL||See #253|
|268. Shawn Hawkins||B||OH||Gov. Kasich commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole because doubts had arisen about the degree of Hawkins' involvement in the drug-related murder. Ohio's Parole Board unanimously recommended clemency. (Washington Post, June 8, 2011).|
|269. Joseph Murphy||W||OH||Gov. Kasich commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole following the unanimous recommendation of clemency by the Ohio Parole Board. The governor said, "Considering Joseph Murphy's brutally abusive upbringing and the relatively young age at which he committed this terrible crime, the death penalty is not appropriate in this case." (CBS News, September 26, 2011).|
|2012||270. Robert Gattis||B||DE||Gov. Jack Markell cited the "unusual and perhaps historic" recommendation of the Delaware Board of Pardons, in a 4-1 vote, to commute Gattis’ sentence after considering disturbing accounts of physical and sexual abuse that Gattis claims to have suffered as a child and which his attorneys argued have never been properly considered by the courts. (The Republic, January 17, 2012).|
|271. Daniel Greene||B||GA||Greene's sentence was commuted to a sentence of life without parole by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Evidence presented to the board included testimony from the prosecutor that that he would have sought life without parole rather than the death penalty if life without parole had existed at the time Greene was sentenced, testimony from community members and prison officials that the crime was an outlier of the otherwise peaceful and upstanding life and that Greene was intoxicated at the time of the crime. (Savannah Morning News, April 20, 2012).|
|272. John Eley||B||OH||Governor John R. Kasich commuted the death sentence of John Jeffrey Eley to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kasich stated that Eley, who is of limited mental capacity, acted under the direction of another man who was later acquitted. Without those factors it is doubtful that Eley would have committed this crime. Additionally, the former Mahoning County prosecutor who tried Eley’s case regretted the way the case was handled and its outcome, and had called for clemency. (Washington Post, July 10, 2012).|
|273. Ronald Post||W||OH||Governor John R. Kasich commuted the death sentence of Ronald Post to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kasich followed a recommendation of mercy by the state parole board, which said there were too many problems with how he was represented 30 years ago. (Associated Press, December 17, 2012).|
|2014||274. Arthur Tyler||B||OH||Governor John R. Kasich commuted the death sentence of Arthur Tyler to life in prison without the possibility of parole, following a recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board, due to questions surrounding his conviction. (Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 30, 2014).|
|275. Tommy Waldrip||W||GA||Granted under Gov. Nathan Deal. Sentence commuted to life without parole by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Although the Board did not state a reason for clemency, one issue raised before the board was that the sentences for Waldrip and his accomplices were not proportional, as the other two people convicted for the same murder both received life sentences. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, July 9, 2014).|
|2015||276. Vernon Evans||B||MD||
Granted under Gov. Martin O'Malley. Sentence commuted to life without parole. Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013, but the legislation was not made retroactive. As a result, inmates on death row remained condemned even though the state did not have the legal means to carry out their sentences. Maryland had not carried out an execution since 2005 due to its lethal injection protocol being found illegal. (Washington Post, January 20, 2015)
|277. Anthony Grandison||B||MD|
|278. Heath Burch||B||MD|
|279. Jody Miles||W||MD|
|280. Kimber Edwards||B||MO||Gov. Jay Nixon commuted the death sentence of Kimber Edwards to life without parole. Although Gov. Nixon said he believed Edwards was guilty of arranging for the killing of his ex-wife, the killer, who had received a life sentence, recanted his testimony that Edwards had been involved in the killing.|
|2017||281. Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz||B/L||Fed.||President Barack Obama granted clemency on January 17, 2017 for Ortiz, a Colombian national with claims of intellectual disability. Ortiz was not in the room when the victim was killed, and his more culpable co-defendant received a life sentence. His attorneys never investigated his intellectual disability. Ortiz was also not granted access to assistance from the Colombian consulate, as required under the Vienna Convention on Consular Rights.|
|282. Dwight Loving||B||Mil.||President Barack Obama granted clemency to Loving on January 17, 2017.|
|283. Ivan Teleguz||W||VA||Governor Terry McAuliffe commuted the death sentence to life in prison, with no chance for parole on April 20, 2017.|
|284. Jason McGehee||W||AR||On August 25, 2017, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced his intent to grant clemency by commuting the death sentence to life without possibility of parole. In announcing his decision, Hutchinson said he had considered "many factors," including a 6-1 recommendation for clemency by the Arkansas Parole Board, a meeting with members of the victim's family, and "he disparity in sentence given to Mr. McGehee compared to the sentences of his co-defendants." On September 29, 2017, Gov. Hutchinson issued a proclamation granting clemency to Mr. McGehee.|
|285. William Joseph Burns||W||VA||On December 29, 2017, Governor Terry McAuliffe commuted the death sentence to life without possibility of parole. The state courts had found that Burns was mentally incompetent and mental health experts had testified he was unlikely to regain competence.|
|2018||286. Thomas Whitaker||W||TX||On February 22, 2018, less than an hour before Thomas "Bart" Whitaker was scheduled to be executed, Governor Greg Abbott commuted Whitaker's death sentence to life without parole. Following a plea by Whitaker's father Kent—the sole survivor of an attack in which his wife and only other son were murdered—to spare Bart Whitaker's life, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on February 20 unanimously recommended that Abbott grant clemency. Abbott said his decision to commute Whitaker's death sentence was based upon several factors, including the unanimous board recommendation, the fact that the triggerperson who killed the victims did not receive the death penalty, the surviving victim's opposition to execution, and the fact that Whitaker waived all future claims to parole in exchange for life in prison.|
*Information on these cases from Michael L. Radelet and Barbara A. Zsembik, "Executive Clemency in Post-Furman Capital Cases," 27 University of Richmond Law Review 289-314 (1993) (with subsequent revisions from Prof. Radelet).
Additional reasons for clemency are from news accounts on file with DPIC.
1. In 1994, Earl Washington's death sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole by then-Governor Wilder. In 2000, DNA tests confirmed Earl Washington's innocence, and he was granted an absolute pardon by Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore.
2. Gov. Perry commuted the death sentence of Doil Lane on March 9, 2007. Lane had intellectual disabilities and the state did not challenge this finding. Hence, the governor's commutation was the result of the Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) forbidding the execution of such inmates and not necessarily for humanitarian reasons.
NOTE: There have also been a number of reductions of sentence granted for judicial expediency, rather than for humanitarian reasons. (See Radelet & Zsembik, above.) Judicial expediency includes cases in which a person's death sentence is overturned by the courts and state law requires that the entire trial, including guilt or innocence, be done over again if a death sentence is being sought. Rather than go through a complete re-trial, the state sometimes asks that the death sentence be reduced to a life sentence. These judicial reductions in sentence for the state's convenience, while sometimes described in lay terms as "commutations," are not acts of clemency. Many states, for example, have resentenced former death-row prisoners to life following court declarations that the state's death-penalty statute is unconstitutional or to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings barring the execution of juveniles or defendants with "intellectual disability." Clemency as described on this page refers solely to an action of the executive branch that either commutes a prisoner's death sentence or pardons the prisoner for the murder charges that led to his or her death sentence.
|States In Which the Governor Has Sole Authority (13)|
|States In Which the Governor Must Have the Recommendation of Clemency From a Board or Advisory Group (8)|
Louisiana (must be unanimous)
Pennsylvania (must be unanimous)
|States In Which the Governor May Receive a Non-binding Recommendation of Clemency From a Board or Advisory Group (9)|
|States In Which a Board or Advisory Group Determines Clemency (5)|
NOTES: *California -The governor may not grant a pardon or commutation to a person twice convicted of a felony except on recommendation of the state Supreme Court, with at least four judges concurring.
**Florida's governor must have recommendation of Board, on which he or she sits.
^New Mexico no longer has the death penalty for future cases as of 2009, but 2 prisoners remain on death row.
^^The Delaware Supreme Court declared the state's death penalty statute unconstitutional in August 2016 and subsequently ruled in December 2016 that the state's death row prisoners must be resentenced to life without possibility of parole. The courts are in the process of resentencing each death row prisoner, one case at a time.
^^^Connecticut no longer has the death penalty. In 2015, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute the prisoners who were already on death row at the time the legislature repealed the death penalty, and reaffirmed that ruling in 2016. The courts are in the process of resentencing each death row prisoner to life without possibility of release, one case at a time.
For Federal Death Row inmates, the President alone has pardon power.
Source: DPIC's research, including articles below.
J. Acker & C. Lanier, "May God--or the Governor--Have Mercy: Executive Clemency and Executions in Modern Death-Penalty Systems," 36 Criminal Law Bulletin 200 (2000).
See also W. Sowa, "Does It Matter How Clemency Is Dispensed? An Analytical Approach in Evaluating the Myths and Truths of Clemency Since 1977" (2011) (Stetson University College of Law, Class of 2012).
American Bar Association, Capital Clemency Resource Initiative (CCRI) Clearinghouse