On consecutive days, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri and Governor Phil Bredesen of Tennessee granted clemencies to death row inmates facing imminent execution in their respective states. In Missouri, Gov. Nixon commuted the death sentence of Richard Clay, who was scheduled for execution on January 12. In Tennessee, Gov. Bredesen granted clemency to Edward Jerome Harbison, thus averting his execution on February 15. Both inmates now face life in prison without parole. Clay and his supporters maintained that he was innocent of a 1994 murder-for-hire murder. In a statement released by the governor’s office, Nixon said that Clay’s “involvement in this crime is clear,” but chose to exercise his executive authority after “having looked at this matter in its entirety and after significant thought and counsel.” In Tennessee, Harbison was charged with a murder that occurred in 1983. He initially confessed to the crime but later claimed he was coerced after authorities threatened to arrest his girlfriend and put her children into foster care. Of the commutation, Gov. Bredesen said, “It’s obviously a heinous crime, but when I compare it to others I don’t think it rose to the level of a death penalty crime.” Gov. Nixon was elected in 2008, having served as Attorney General while Clay was being prosecuted. Gov. Bredesen is leaving office.

(J. Salter, “Mo. gov. spares man whose execution was imminent,” Washington Post, January 10, 2011); R. Berg, “Gov. Nixon commutes sentence of death row inmate,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 2011; B. Hass, “Bredesen commutes Edward Harbison’s death sentence, pardons 22 others,” The Tennessean, January 11, 2011).

See Clemency and Life Without Parole. The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the execution of Cleve Foster in Texas just moments before he was to be executed on January 11.