Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma recently granted a stay to Richard Smith, who was scheduled for execution on April 8. The governor wanted to allow more time to review the recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that Smith’s death sentence be commuted, and to meet with prosecution and defense attorneys to hear their perspectives. Smith was convicted of a 1986 murder during a time when evidence of fundamental errors in the criminal justice system was not as apparent as it is now. A year after his conviction, Oklahoma’s legislature passed a law adopting life without parole as a sentencing option. Three jurors from Smith’s trial have sinced signed affidavits stating that if life without parole had been an option, they would have voted for it. Jurors have also signed affidavits recalling that they were “unimpressed” by the performance of Smith’s defense lawyer at trial. In 2005, a U.S. District Court stated that, by today’s standards, the defense’s failure to request a psychiatrist to assist him for the penalty phase was unreasonable.

The stay will last at least until May 4. The Pardon and Parole Board has made 6 previous recommendations for clemency for death row inmates since Henry became governor in 2003. The governor approved 2, commuting the death sentences to life in prison without parole.

(M. McNutt, “Henry halts execution to consider clemency,” The Oklahoman, March 27, 2010). Read more about Richard Smith’s case from Amnesty International. See also Clemency.