On January 16, Georgia plans to execute Jimmy Meders (pictured in his National Guard uniform), a man whom jurors say they would have sentenced to life without parole if that option had been available and who, state sentencing practices suggest, would not face the death penalty today. For those reasons, Meders’ lawyers say in court pleadings and an application before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, his execution would violate contemporary standards of decency and he should be granted clemency.

Meders was convicted and sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of a convenience store clerk during an armed robbery. During the trial, prosecutors told jurors they should sentence Meders to die, asserting that he was the triggerman who shot the store clerk in the chest and the head. Meders has consistently maintained that he did not shoot anyone.

Shortly after beginning their penalty-phase deliberations, the jury submitted a question to the court asking whether they could sentence Meders to life without the possibility of parole. The court advised them that they could not. That option, say Meders’ lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights, was not available under Georgia law until four years later, in 1993, when the Georgia state legislature amended its death-penalty statute to authorize life without parole as a sentencing alternative.

That sentencing option would have changed the outcome of the case, Meders’ jurors say. According to the affidavit of the jury foreperson, the jurors did not want Meders to face execution, “[b]ut that was the only option if we wanted to make sure he didn’t get out.” Another juror wrote that “would not have voted for a death sentence” if there had been assurances that Meders could not have been released. All eight surviving jurors in Meders’ case now support his petition for clemency and six signed affidavits saying that they would not have imposed the death penalty if they could have sentenced Meders to life without parole.

Citing Georgia trial and sentencing statistics, Meders’ lawyers also say he would not have been sentenced to death if tried today. Their data show that no one in Georgia has been sentenced to death in more than a decade for the robbery and murder of a single victim. Likewise, no district attorney has even sought the death penalty in such a case in the past eight years, they say. As a result, they argue, Meders’ death sentence “is disproportionate according to the contemporary standards of decency of the people of Georgia.”

“This should never have been a death-penalty case,” Meders’ lawyer, the Southern Center’s Mike Admirand, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Had he been tried in 2020 and not 1989, Mr. Meders would not receive a death sentence.”

Meders is also seeking DNA testing that he believes will prove that he was not the shooter and that two key witnesses—Greg Creel and Bill Arnold—who testified for the prosecution that Meders shot the store clerk lied to the jury about his involvement in the murder. The trial court denied his motion for DNA testing on January 8, and Meders has appealed that decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.


Bill Rankin, Inmate to be exe­cut­ed for crime that no longer gets death penal­ty, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 10, 2020; Bill Rankin, Judge rejects Georgia death row inmate’s request for DNA test­ing of gun, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 8, 2020; Helena C. de Moura, Ga. Death Row Inmate, Scheduled To Be Executed Jan. 16, Granted Hearing Seeking DNA Tests, WABE, Georgia Public Radio, January 8, 2020; Bill Rankin, Inmate to be exe­cut­ed Jan. 16 says DNA tests will show he’s no killer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 72020.

This post­ing was updat­ed on January 14 to include addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about the jurors’ sup­port for Mr. Meders’ clemen­cy petition.