Kentucky Governor Commutes Death Sentence Before Leaving Office Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky commuted the death sentence of Jeffrey D. Leonard for the 1983 murder of a Louisville store clerk before leaving office. Governor Fletcher reduced Leonard's death sentence to life without parole. He had been convicted under the name of James Earl Slaughter. The Governor noted in his commutation that Leonard was not provided with adequate representation and that Leonard’s attorney did not even know his client's real name during the trial. The governor’s general counsel, David Fleenor, stated, “We're not going to execute somebody who clearly was denied a basic right."

Governor Fletcher said he spent considerable time reviewing the almost 1,000 cases of individuals who requested pardons and commutations. "None of those decisions that we have to make are easy but I feel like I can lay my head down and say we've done our very best to carry out the duties of the governor till our last day," he said.
(“100 Get Pardons, Commutations GOP Governor’s Final Acts,” by John Stamper, Lexington Herald-Leader, December 11, 2007). See also Clemency and Representation. There have been 3 commutations of death sentences in 2007.  There were none in 2006.

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BACKGROUND ON RECENT COMMUTATION: "Grossly Inadequate" Representation in a System that "Broke Down"

Just two days after Tennessee's first electrocution in nearly 50 years, Governor Phil Bredesen (pictured) commuted the death sentence of Michael Joe Boyd to life in prison without parole. The Governor called the representation Boyd received during his appeals "grossly inadequate," adding that Boyd's claims were never comprehensively reviewed because his appellate attorney - Dan Seward - failed to provide evidence to support Boyd's initial claim that he was poorly represented during his trial. Bredesen observed, "I've always taken the position that I'm not trying to be the 13th juror; I'm trying to be a backstop. The judicial system just kind of broke down." Boyd's current attorney, Robert Hutton, said that Boyd's clemency request to Bredesen was one of the last legal avenues available before his scheduled execution on October 24.

Boyd, now known as Mika'eel Abdullah Abdus-Samad in prison, has been on death row since 1988. He was convicted of shooting William Price in 1986. Boyd claims the shooting was accidental, but he was convicted of felony murder in perpetration of a robbery. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld Boyd's death sentence in 1998, when the justices dismissed his claim that prosecutors improperly cited the murder itself as an aggravating factor to support their call for the death penalty.

"He is deeply grateful, thankful and deeply remorseful about his actions in his past. He's trying to spend the rest of his life making a positive contribution to society," Hutton said of Boyd.
(Associated Press, September 14, 2007). See Clemency.

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Texas Governor Grants Rare Death Penalty Commutation

Just hours before tonight's (August 30) scheduled execution of Kenneth Foster, Governor Rick Perry (pictured) has accepted a Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommendation to stop Foster's execution and commute his sentence to life. Perry was not obligated to accept the highly unusual 6-1 recommendation from the board whose members he appoints. The commutation is the first of its kind in his eight years in office. The board decision was announced about seven hours before Foster was scheduled to die. Perry's announcement came about an hour later. "After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment. I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine," Perry said.

Foster was sentenced to death under the Texas Law of Parties that permits a person involved in a crime to be held accountable for the actions committed by someone else.  Foster was tried along with a co-defendant who actually shot the victim in this case.  Two other co-defendants pled guilty and received lesser sentences after testifying in Foster's trial.  In Foster's case, Texas maintained that he deserved the death penalty because he should have anticipated that a passenger in his vehicle, Mauriceo Brown, would exit the car with a weapon and fatally shoot the victim, Michael LaHood.

(Associated Press, August 30, 2007). Read Governor Perry's press announcement and statement about the commutation. See Arbitrariness and Clemency.

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Questions of Innocence Remain as Georgia Board Considers Davis' Clemency Request

UPDATE: After less than one hour of deliberation, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles granted Troy Anthony Davis a 90-day stay of execution. The stay means Davis' execution will be on hold while the board weighs the evidence presented as part of his request for clemency. (Associated Press, July 16, 2007).

Today (July 16), on the eve of Georgia's scheduled execution of Troy Anthony Davis (pictured), the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles will consider whether Davis should be granted clemency because of new evidence about his possible innocence. More than two decades ago, Davis was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer in Savannah. With no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime, prosecutors relied on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses to build their case against Davis. Since then, seven of the state's key eyewitnesses have recanted or changed their testimony, with some saying that their original statements were given only after police harassed them and pressured them to lie under oath. Some of the eyewitness say another man who testified against Davis during his trial, Sylvester Coles, is actually guilty of the crime.

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Possibly Mentally Retarded Man to be Executed in Texas, Where Almost All 2007 Executions Have Occurred

If James Lee Clark is executed in Texas on April 11, he will be the 12th Texas inmate executed out of 13 executions nationwide in 2007.  According to some psychological tests, Clark has an IQ of 68 or lower, which is one of the common criteria for mental retardation.  Clark's defense team has asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Texas Governor Rick Perry to halt the execution because of the likelihood that Clark suffers from mental retardation.

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Editorials - Mental Illness and Retardation

Editorials Praise Virginia Governor's Decision to Delay Walton Execution

Recent editorials in The Washington Post and Roanoke Times praised Virginia Governor Tim Kaine's decision to delay the execution of Percy Walton in order to ensure that he is sane enough to execute. The papers noted that Kaine's decision, which drew criticism from some death penalty advocates, demonstrated "competence in lawfully applying the death penalty" and was "courageous."

The Washington Post noted:

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), a devout Catholic and principled opponent of the death penalty, threaded the needle on that issue in his race for office last year. In a broadly pro-capital-punishment state, he said forthrightly that he had long-standing moral and religious objections to state executions. Yet he also pledged to carry out the death sentence as a function of his office and in pursuance of state law. To do otherwise, he said, would be to disregard his official oath -- except in instances when a convict's guilt was in question.

Now, with a condemned man's life on the line, Mr. Kaine has stepped in; with scarcely an hour to spare last week, he postponed for six months an execution pending an inquiry into the inmate's mental state. Predictably, Mr. Kaine's pro-death-penalty opponents howled that he had broken a campaign promise. It's a good bet they haven't read the case record in question; Mr. Kaine clearly has.

The record on convicted killer Percy Levar Walton leaves no doubt about his guilt; in 1996, a month past his 18th birthday, he murdered three people, including an elderly couple, in the Southside city of Danville. The record of his competency to face the death sentence is another matter.

Mr. Walton's case is complex. An array of psychiatrists have reached differing conclusions about his mental capacity and ability to grasp that he may be put to death. That's important, as the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that a condemned man is fit for execution only if he understands that he's been sentenced to death and the reason.

There is evidence that Mr. Walton's mental ability and health are declining. A decade ago he scored 90 on an IQ test -- below average but not severely so. But in recent years he has twice scored under 70, the level below which people are considered mentally retarded. More to the point, he has sometimes seemed cloudy on what the death penalty means, telling one psychiatrist that after his execution he expected to have access to a telephone, a motorcycle and a job at Burger King. Ruling on Mr. Walton's case in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, perhaps the nation's most conservative federal court, split 7 to 6 in deciding that he is mentally fit to be executed.

Mr. Kaine has already shown that he takes his campaign promises seriously; in April he denied clemency and allowed a condemned man to be executed. But he is empowered by Virginia's constitution to review scheduled executions one by one, and he is duty-bound to take that responsibility seriously. Virginia governors have granted clemency in seven cases since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Mr. Kaine is right, and courageous, to order a full review before passing a final judgment on Mr. Walton.

(Washington Post, June 11, 2006)

The Roanoke Times stated:

Whether Walton is smart enough or sane enough to understand that Virginia last week was hours away from killing him for those crimes is very much in doubt. Gov. Tim Kaine made the right call when he stayed Walton's execution for six months, time enough to determine the degree of his mental retardation and mental illness.

Before Virginia pumps lethal chemicals into this killer's veins, the state should be sure Walton understands exactly what will happen to him and why the commonwealth exacts the ultimate retribution. The U.S. Supreme Court requires -- and a just society demands -- this level of mental competency. . .

Reasonable doubt prompted Kaine to order the gathering of "current and independent information about Walton's mental condition." Without that assessment, Kaine said it would be "imprudent to either proceed with the execution or grant clemency."

Had a governor other than Kaine arrived at that conclusion, few would comment. But as a practicing Roman Catholic, he came under attack during last year's campaign. He assured voters his personal opposition to the death penalty would not prevent him from carrying out the duties of the office. He has allowed one execution to proceed on schedule.

Walton's stay leaves Kaine vulnerable to "we told you so" rants. Those should be ignored by reasonable people who expect Virginia to exhibit competence in lawfully applying the death penalty.

(Roanoke Times, June 12, 2006)

Editorial Praises Clemency for Mentally Ill Indiana Man Facing Execution

A recent editorial in The Washington Post praised Indiana Governor Mitchell Daniels for commuting the death sentence of Arthur Baird, who suffers from severe mental illness. The editorial noted:

Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R) acted wisely and humanely this week in commuting the death sentence of one Arthur Paul Baird II. There is no question that Mr. Baird killed his parents and his pregnant wife back in 1985. There is also little question that he is seriously mentally ill and was so then. His mental illness was clearly a significant factor in the killings and just as clearly led directly to his death sentence. Because of his delusional state, Mr. Baird inexplicably rejected a plea deal the state had offered him that would have spared his life. Jurors in his case have indicated that had life in prison without parole -- not an option in Indiana at the time -- been available, they would have chosen that rather than death. Family members were similarly inclined. Yet the state parole board recommended against clemency on a 3 to 1 vote, and the Indiana Supreme Court, also divided, likewise declined to step in. Mr. Daniels deserves credit for taking responsibility for preventing Mr. Baird's execution. . .

Still, other governors in recent years, faced with severely mentally ill inmates on death row, have averted their gaze and let them die. The Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded or those who were not of age at the time of their crimes. That it is still somehow okay to put to death a florid psychotic is a strange and amoral anomaly of contemporary American law, one that cries out for reform. Until that happens, however, executive clemency is the only viable protection. It is refreshing to see a governor willing to step up to the plate.

(Washington Post, September 1, 2005)

Austin American-Statesman: Texas Must Fix Uneven Application of the Death Penalty

In a November 25, 2003 editorial, the Austin American-Statesman argues that the state's implementation of the death penalty is unfair, citing the recent case of Walter Bell, who was declared mentally retarded by state experts. The editorial states that despite this,

"Rodney Connerly, the Jefferson County assistant district attorney who is now handling the case, dismisses the retardation findings as just "based on numbers," and said the fact that Bell could commit the killings shows he is not mentally retarded."

(Austin American-Statesman, November 25, 2003)

From the Washington Post: Mentally Ill Juvenile Offender Receives Stay of Execution in Georgia

(Note: Williams's sentence was commuted to life)

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has granted a temporary stay of execution until Feb. 25 to consider the case of Alexander Williams, a mentally ill inmate who was sentenced to death for a crime he committed when he was 17 years old. Williams's attorneys assert that he should not be executed because he is a juvenile offender who suffers from chronic paranoid schizophrenia. Williams has a standing "involuntary medication order" that permits guards to forcibly inject his medication if he does not take it voluntarily. At Williams's trial, neither his age nor his mental health issues were presented to the jury. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2/20/02) In an editorial urging a court to consider the Williams case, The Washington Post stated:

 [T]he Williams case raises the question of whether Georgia may treat an inmate to restore competency, in order then to kill him.

    . . .

 The state does not concede the extent of Mr. Williams's impairment, contending instead that the matter has never been raised in the appropriate forum. But it apparently does take his delusions seriously enough to forcibly inject him with drugs if he does not take them willingly.

At the very least, a court should consider the evidence of Mr. Williams's current mental state and determine whether his execution would offend the Constitution. No court has yet done so. Ultimately, the Supreme Court should make clear that states may not treat mental illness in order to pave the road to the death chamber. The court faced this question once before, and it punted. It should not do so again. . . . Here's hoping someone has the decency to stop it altogether.

(The Washington Post, editorial, 02/20/02)

From the Dallas Morning News:

Gov. George W. Bush has a responsibility to step away from the campaign trail today and urge the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider its decision to allow the execution of convicted killer Larry Robison Friday...

[E]xecuting a criminal who suffered from mental illness before he murdered and who lacked the resources for psychiatric care serves no public purpose....

[T]he nation's 2nd largest state ranks 48th for mental health investments overall.

(Dallas Morning News, 11/20/00)

From The Dallas Morning News

The state shouldn't kill people who cannot comprehend the fact that they are going to be executed or why they are going to die.....Ongoing, severe mental illness and lifelong mental retardation should exempt prisoners from the death penalty.

(Dallas Morning News, 2/2/99)

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Clemency News and Developments: 2002-2001

Clemency Often Used in the Past to Remedy Injustice
In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, law Professor Daniel Kobil examined historical uses of the power of clemency:

Comprehensive remissions of punishment to remedy systemic flaws are. . . sometimes required. It is not unusual for courts to make constitutional rulings that have the effect of invalidating convictions across the board. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Furman vs. Georgia, effectively invalidated every death sentence then pending nationwide. And other executives have found it necessary to use clemency to correct problems common to an entire class. Thomas Jefferson, shortly after becoming president, discharged every person being punished under the Alien and Sedition Act, which he considered an unconstitutional law. In a letter to Abigail Adams, he explained that he did this "in every instance, without asking what the offenders had done, or against whom they had offended, but whether the pains they were suffering were inflicted under the [invalid] law." President Andrew Johnson following the Civil War, and Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter after the Vietnam conflict, granted amnesty to broad classes of individuals who had broken wartime laws. (Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2002)
In Illinois, Governor George Ryan is expected to act on the clemency requests from every death row inmate before he leaves office in January. See, also Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment.

Clemency Recommendations Submitted to Kentucky, Oklahoma Governors
Nine Kentucky lawmakers have called on Governor Paul Patton to commute the death sentence of Kevin Stanford, a juvenile offender on Kentucky's death row. The request noted that a "national and international consensus against executing juvenile offenders" has developed. Among those lawmakers who signed the letter was Kentucky House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo, who said that a poll of Kentuckians showed that residents of the state support a sentence other than death for juvenile offenders. (Courier-Journal, November 13, 2002).

In Oklahoma, the state Pardon and Parole Board unanimously recommended clemency for Earnest Marvin Carter, whose scheduled execution date is December 17, 2002. By a vote of 4-0, the members of the board recommended that Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating commute Carter's sentence, with three of the four members recommending life without parole. Of the three previous recommendations for clemency in death cases sent to Keating by the Board since 1995, he has granted only one. Carter's defense attorneys argue that their client is deserving of the commutation because he was not guilty of the crime beyond a moral certainty. (Associated Press, November 12, 2002). See also, Juvenile Death Penalty

Illinois Clemency Hearings Spark Editorials
Two recent editorials sparked by the on-going clemency hearings in Illinois highlight the issues faced by the state's review board and Governor George Ryan. The Christian Science Monitor observed:

The hearings, replaying grisly murders, have set loose a flood of emotion. But that can't be allowed to obscure the basic purpose: determining whether convictions and subsequent death sentences resulted from fair trials or tainted ones.
. . .
In many cases, there's no question the convicts did what they were accused of. The question is whether their trials were so flawed that their sentences should be commuted.
. . .
In any event, the process in Illinois illustrates the multitude of human failings that can work their way into capital trials, raising the terrible prospect of executing the innocent. That prospect, together with deep moral concerns about state-sanctioned killing, underscores the need to put the death penalty permanently back on the shelf of history. (Christian Science Monitor, October 18, 2002)
The Courier & Press of Indiana noted:
Indiana and other death penalty states should pay close attention to what is happening in Illinois.
. . .
[A]fter an examination of capital punishment in Indiana, we arrived at the conclusion that the death penalty in Indiana should be abolished. We based that on its failure to serve as a deterrent, on the potential for irreversible mistakes (as have been discovered in Illinois), the expense, the delay and the pain it causes to families. (Courier & Press, October 20, 2002).
See also, Illinois Commission on Capital Punishment.

Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles Commutes Sentence to Life
Alexander Williams was granted clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles on February 25. A spokeswoman for the Board stated that Williams's mental illness, his status as a juvenile offender, and his history of abuse as a child were factors leading to the Board's decision to commute his death sentence to life without parole. The Board received many pleas for clemency, including those from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the European Union, the American Bar Association, and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (New York Times, 2/26/02) This was the second death penalty clemency granted this year and the 48th since 1976.
North Carolina Governor Commutes Alston's Sentence
Hours before Charlie Alston was scheduled to be executed in North Carolina, Governor Mike Easley commuted Alston's sentence to life without parole. Although Easley did not give a specific reason for the reprieve, he stated, "After long and careful consideration of all the facts and circumstances of this case in its entirety, I conclude that the appropriate sentence for the defendant is life in prison without parole." Alston has always maintained his innocence, stating that DNA evidence from the scene would prove his innocence. That evidence, however, was lost by the state. (News and Observer, 1/10/02)
Alston's commutation marks the 2nd time Easley has granted clemency, and the 5th time a North Carolina governor has done so since 1976. During that same time, 47 death row inmates nationally have had their sentences commuted for humanitarian reasons.
For more information on the Alston case, visit the Coalition of Criminal Justice Organizations' Press Release.
Charlie Alston

Clemency Was Not Always So Rare in North Carolina
Prior to North Carolina Governor Easley's decision to grant clemency to Robert Bacon, Jr., only three North Carolina death row inmates in nearly a quarter of a century had their sentences reduced to life in prison by the state's governor. The use of clemency was not always so uncommon. A recent article by Gene R. Nichol, Dean at the University of North Carolina School of Law, noted that between 1909 and 1930, 46 percent of those receiving the death penalty in North Carolina had their sentences commuted to life. From 1909 to 1970, 358 prisoners were executed and 236 (40 percent) had their sentences limited. High rates of clemency (1:1) were maintained from the mid-50s to 1970, even though juries had been given more discretion to reject the harshest sanction. (News and Observer, op-ed, 10/10/01)

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Clemency News and Developments: 2003
Four Executions in Texas and Georgia Stayed, Clemency Recommended for Foreign National in Oklahoma
Four stays were granted for executions that were scheduled to take place this week in Texas and Georgia, and Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board unanimously recommended clemency for a foreign national facing execution in January 2004. In Texas, courts ordered three stays of execution. Two of the cases involved challenges to the use of pancuronium bromide as part of the state's lethal injection process. A third case, that of Bobby Lee Hines, was stayed on the basis of a mental retardation claim. Attorneys for Texas death row inmates Billy Frank Vickers and Kevin Lee Zimmerman filed a suit stating that one of the lethal injection drugs, which has been banned by the American Veterinary Medical Association, violates the constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court issued a stay for Zimmerman just 20 minutes before his scheduled execution. Vickers' execution was put off by the state because of uncertainty of how the courts would rule. (Associated Press, December 11, 2003) Pancuronium bromide is used in 28 states that execute by lethal injection.
In Georgia, just hours before the scheduled execution of Eddie Crawford, the state Supreme Court agreed to hear his appeal to have several pieces of possible blood evidence tested for DNA. Attorneys for Crawford stated that the evidence must be tested based on a new law granting inmates greater access to post-conviction DNA-testing. Oral arguments in the case are expected to take place in February. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 11, 2003).
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency to Hung Thanh Le, a Vietnamese foreign national on the state's death row. The Board voted unanimously to recommend relief after hearing Le's claim that he did not have access to legal help from his embassy after being arrested and accused of murder, and that his original trial attorney failed to consider his client's post traumatic stress disorder as a possible defense. (The Oklahoman, December 10, 2003). See Methods of Execution.

Court Voids Death Penalty for Mexican Foreign National, Issues Life Sentence
Two years after Mexican foreign national Gerardo Valdez came within days of his scheduled execution in Oklahoma, a jury has resentenced him to life without parole. In 2001, after reviewing evidence that Valdez was denied his right to seek assistance from the Mexican consulate as required by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend Valdez's clemency request, and Mexican President Vicente Fox made a personal plea to Governor Frank Keating on Valdez's behalf. Although Keating denied clemency, he stayed the execution to allow time for Valdez to appeal. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Valdez must have a new sentencing hearing, which resulted in a sentence of life without parole. (Associated Press, November 21, 2003) See Foreign Nationals.

 Doctor Recants Testimony As North Carolina Man's Execution Date Approaches
Psychiatrist Cynthia Smith, who served as a key witness in the 1990 death penalty case against John Daniels of North Carolina, has recanted her testimony because state prosecutors withheld important information from her. "My testimony was erroneous with gross errors. Not only did the prosecution fail to give me all the relevant information, I did not look for the information either," White said in an affidavit about the testimony she gave in her first and only capital case. She added, "John Daniels used much more alcohol and crack cocaine before the killing than the prosecution had led me to believe. All I was aware of was the he had had 'some wine' before going to his aunt's house." In 1990, White testified that Daniels wasn't influenced by alcohol or cocaine when he committed the crime and that he showed no remorse for the murder. She was not told by prosecutors that Daniels had tried to burn himself after the crime or that he was drunk during the murder. She notes that this information would have made a difference in her diagnosis of Daniels, who is scheduled to be executed on November 14, 2003. Defense attorneys for Daniels note that White's affidavit could weigh heavily if a court or North Carolina Governor Mike Easley agrees to examine the case before the scheduled execution. (Charlotte Observer, November 7, 2003)

 Bush's Gubernatorial Clemency Process Probed
A recent Atlantic Monthly article by Alan Berlow features a review of never-before-seen summaries and related documents used by then-Governor George Bush during his consideration of clemency appeals filed by death row inmates in Texas. The article notes that Bush's legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, often provided the Governor with case summaries and documents reflecting a "clear prosecutorial bias" and that Gonzales's briefings failed to raise crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffectiveness of counsel, conflicts of interest, mitigating evidence, and evidence of innocence. The article also notes that Gonzales now serves as President Bush's White House counsel, and many consider him a possible future Supreme Court nominee. Read the entire article. (Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2003)

Ohio Governor Grants Clemency
Ohio Governor Bob Taft has granted clemency to Jerome Campbell, who was scheduled to be executed on June 27th for a 1988 murder in Cincinnati. The clemency, Taft's first since he took office, follows the recommendation of the state's Parole Board, which voted 6-2 in favor of clemency. Defense attorneys maintain that Campbell should be retried because a DNA test he requested from the state showed that blood on his gym shoes introduced as trial evidence was Campbell's own blood, not the victim's. The results marked the first time an Ohio prisoner obtained DNA test results through a state law that allows death row inmates to have DNA testing at the state's expense. In its recommendation, the Parole Board noted that jurors may have spared Campbell's life during his initial trial had they had the opportunity to consider the DNA information. (Associated Press, June 26, 2003).

Issue of Juveniles on Death Row Leads to Kentucky Governor's First Commutation
Kentucky Governor Paul Patton said that he will commute the death sentence of Kevin Stanford, a juvenile offender whose 1989 case before the U.S. Supreme Court resulted in a ruling allowing the execution of those who were 16 or 17-years-old at the time of their crime. This will be the first time Patton has commuted a death sentence since he took office, and he noted in his announcement that the justice system "perpetuated an injustice" in Stanford's case. Stanford has been on Kentucky's death row for two decades for a murder he committed when he was 17. During that time, his case has served as a cornerstone in the national debate about the execution of juvenile offenders. Patton is still considering whether he will commute the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole or to a lesser sentence. (Herald-Leader, June 19, 2003) See Juvenile Death Penalty

Supreme Court Decision Leads to Commutation in Louisiana
The Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended that Welcome be taken off death row because the U.S. Supreme Court's decision ending the practice of executing those with mental retardation. Welcome, who is considered mentally retarded with an IQ of between 50-57, had his sentence commuted to life without parole when Louisiana Governor Mike Foster signed off on the Board's recommendation. (Associated Press, May 10, 2003). See Mental Retardation.

Louisiana Governor Commutes Death Sentence to Life In Prison
Louisiana Governor Mike Foster has removed Herbert Welcome, a 51-year-old man with mental retardation, from the state's death row and commuted his sentence to life in prison. The decision came after members of the state's Pardon Board recommended clemency in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, which bans the execution of those who have mental retardation. Experts estimate that Welcome, who has spent 19 years on death row and who has faced execution at least three times, has the mental maturity of an 8-year-old child. (Associated Press, May 10, 2003) See Mental Retardation.

 Ohio Parole Board Urges Clemency for Death Row Inmate Who Maintains Innocence
By a vote of 8-2, the Ohio Parole Board has recommended that Governor Bob Taft grant clemency to Jerome Campbell, a death row inmate whom the Board believes was convicted by a jury that was unable to consider all of the evidence in his case. The Parole Board noted that Campbell's attorneys "presented credible evidence for the majority members of this board to question any sustained confidence or reliability in the jury's recommendation." Campbell was scheduled for execution on May 14. He maintains his innocence and states that DNA testing on his bloody tennis shoes supports his claim. The Board recommended that Campbell be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This is the Board's first recommendation of clemency since Ohio resumed executions in 1999. (Associated Press, May 2, 2003) See Innocence.

Systemic Problems Lead Illinois Governor to Commute All Death Sentences
Gov. George Ryan has granted clemency to all of the remaining 156 death row inmates in Illinois as a direct result of the flawed process that led to these sentences. He also granted clemency to 11 inmates who were awaiting sentencing or resentencing. In light of this historic action, the state must now decide if it wants to begin the death penalty process all over again. The governor's decision is in keeping with the traditional use of this executive power to remedy great injustices. Ryan's announcement, made during a speech at Northwestern University Law School, comes one day after he erased the convictions of four death row inmates. Today's clemencies will not result in the release of the inmates since many still face life in prison. Read Governor Ryan's Remarks. See DPIC's Press Release.

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Clemency News and Developments: 2004
Judge Stays Workman Execution, Doubts About Case Remain
A federal judge in Memphis has blocked the execution of Philip Workman, a Tennessee man who has been on death row for more than 20 years despite evidence that he did not shoot the victim who was killed. Workman's execution, scheduled for September 22, was delayed pending the results of a federal review of another Tennessee case that could affect Workman's latest appeals. (New Channel 5 News in Tennessee, September 2, 2004).
Workman was convicted in 1981 of the murder of police officer Ronald Oliver during the course of a Memphis robbery. Workman has never denied his participation in the robbery, but has maintained that he did not fire the shot that fatally wounded Oliver. Since Workman's trial, the state's key witness in the case has recanted his testimony, saying he had lied on the stand. In addition, ballistics evidence has cast doubt on the assertion that Workman's gun was the weapon used to murder Oliver. Based on this evidence, five of the jurors who sentenced Workman to die have since signed affidavits stating they would not have sentenced Workman to death had they heard all of the evidence that emerged following his conviction. When the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected Workman's most recent appeal, Justice Adolpho Birch issued a strong dissent that noted: "(T)he gravity of this case and the strength of my conviction concerning this case drive my response...under any analysis, the new-discovered proof that an 'eyewitness' no longer claimed to have seen Workman shoot the officer, and that the wound causing death was inconsistent with the type of wound which would have been caused by a bullet matching Workman's gun, mandates a conclusion that the evidence may have resulted in a different judgment." Workman's execution date was the fifth date he has faced during his years on death row. A reprieve was granted for his last scheduled execution because the medical examiner in Workman's case had been indicted for faking that he had been abducted by supporters of Workman. Among those endorsing clemency for Workman are Oliver's daughter and the former prosecutor of Shelby County, where Workman was tried and convicted. The former prosecutor has also donated his services as lead counsel for Workman's clemency bid. (See DPIC Press Release, September 15, 2003).

Broad Spectrum of Citizens Seeks Clemency in Upcoming Texas Execution
A broad spectrum of the public is seeking clemency for Texas death row inmate James Allridge, who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday, August 26th. Among those pointing to Allridge's rehabilitation as the basis for mercy are four of the original jurors in his trial, two former death row prison guards, a retired prison system administrator, a Fort Worth city councilman, one of Allridge's former employers, and murder victims' family members. The supporters state that since Aldridge arrived on death row in 1987, his remorse for the murder of Brian Clendennen has led him to strive for redemption, and his behavior has become a model for others on death row.
Former death row guards pointed out that Allridge has made the unit a safer place and that he has used his intellectual skills to teach others in prison to read and write. Allridge has also become an accomplished painter whose art has been displayed throughout the nation and internationally.
Jurors in the case said that they were not presented with important mitigating evidence during his trial and that this information could have led to a sentencing recommendation of life in prison. The jurors say that defense attorneys failed to adequately present evidence about Allridge's troubled relationship with his family, especially his naive desire to please an older brother who was a career criminal. This omission kept jurors from accurately evaluating Allridge's future dangerousness, a determination that Texas uses as the primary basis for a recommendation of death.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has received over 120 requests for clemency in capital cases and has recommended clemency to the Governor on only few occasions. Of the three clemency recommendations sent this year to Governor Rick Perry, he has granted only one, and that was on the basis of the defendant's mental retardation.
Critics of the Texas death penalty system state that it's ironic that the state's capital punishment system permits juries to recommend death based on a future dangerousness determination gleaned from "every bad thing you've ever done," but fails to take into account the acts of redemption and rehabilitation during the clemency process. They point to the words of Charles Aycock, a former president of the State Bar Association and a member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, who has stated, "Clemency is not about a rigid legal standard - or even a legal standard capable of articulation. Rather, it is about mercy." The Board of Pardons and Paroles will consider Allridge's clemency request on Monday, August 23rd. (Austin Chronicle, August 20, 2004) (UPDATE: Allridge was executed in the state of Texas on August 26, 2004.)

As Alabama Prepares to Executed Elderly, Ill Inmate, Officials Block Clemency Petition
A clemency letter-writing campaign organized by Alabama death row prisoners on behalf of James Barney Hubbard, an ailing 74-year-old man who is scheduled to be executed on August 5th, was recently halted by Department of Correction authorities at Donaldson Prison. Just two months before Hubbard's scheduled execution, Willie Dorrell Minor wrote a clemency petition to Alabama Governor Robert Riley. He planned to have the petition asking Riley to spare Hubbard's life signed by other individuals on the state's death row before submitting it to the Governor. The letter read, in part, "Mr. Hubbard has been ill for several years suffering from prostate cancer, colon cancer and ulcers to name some of his health problems. Given the condition of this elderly and sick man I respectfully submit that the pending execution of Mr. Hubbard is offensive to every civilized Alabamian.This is not an issue of the death penalty per se, but rather of justice, mercy, and morality. I urge you to grant clemency to Mr. Hubbard...Governor Riley, thank you for your mercy and consideration concerning this very important matter." In order to obtain enough copies of his letter to circulate it to other people on the state's death row, Minor had copies made through a death penalty group that were then mailed back through the prison mail system so that each death row inmate could receive a copy to sign and send to the Governor. It was during this final step that Department of Correction officials confiscated the package of photocopied letters. To date, the governor has not received a clemency petition on behalf of Hubbard. (Letter from George Jones, July 14, 2004).

Commutation Granted in Indiana
Darnell Williams, who was scheduled to be exectued in Indiana on July 9, was granted a commutation of his death sentence to life without parole by Governor Joe Kernan. It was the first commutation in a death penalty case in that state in 48 years. The governor cited the fact that a co-defendant in the case, Gregory Rouster, had received a life sentence, and hence it would be unfair to execute Williams. ( (AP story), July 2, 2004).
Several members of the prosecution team, including the trial prosecutor, a crime scene technician, and a police officer at the scene joined 6 jurors and the initial post-conviction judge in urging Governor Kernan to grant clemency. The prosecutor said that not only was there a chance that Williams would not have received the death sentence had all the evidence been available, but that he would not have sought death in the first place. Two of the jurors said that they would have acquitted Williams had such evidence been available. (Source: Attorneys for Darnell Williams).

Texas Board Recommends Clemency on Eve of Execution
On the eve of the Kelsey Patterson's scheduled execution in Texas, the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 5-1 to recommend that Governor Rick Perry commute Patterson's death sentence to life in prison. In its rare recommendation for clemency, the Board noted that if Governor Perry refuses to grant clemency, Patterson, a mentally ill man who is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, May 18th, should receive a 120-day reprieve. The BoardÕs actions mark the first time in more than two decades that members have recommended a commutation to the governor at such a late state in a condemned inmate's case. Patterson has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who, in the years leading up to his capital murder conviction, was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial on unrelated charges. His impending execution renewed the question of whether it is proper to execute someone who is mentally ill when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it is unconstitutional to execute someone who is mentally retarded. (Associated Press, May 18, 2004) UPDATE: Despite the recommendation of the Pardons and Paroles Board, Governor Perry denied the clemency request, and Patterson was executed on May 18, 2004. See Mental Illness. Read Amnesty International's Report on Kelsey Patterson.

Oklahoma Governor Grants Clemency to Mexican Foreign National
Just days before the scheduled execution of Osvaldo Torres, a Mexican foreign national on Oklahoma's death row, Governor Brad Henry granted a request for clemency in part because of a recent International Court of Justice decision ordering the United States to review the cases of 51 Mexican foreign nationals on death row because they were denied their right to seek consular assistance following their arrest. Henry's announcement came just hours after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decided to stay Torres' execution and order a new hearing in his case. Last week, the Oklahoma Board of Pardon and Parole recommended clemency for Torres. Although Henry has denied three similar recommendations from the Board since taking office, his decision to commute Torres' sentence to life in prison without parole marks the first time that the Governor has granted clemency to an individual on death row. In his statement, Henry said the International Court of Justice ruling is binding on U.S. courts, and that the U.S. State Department had contacted his office to urge that he give careful consideration to the fact that the U.S. signed the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which ensures access to consular assistance for foreign nationals who are arrested. "The treaty is also important to protecting the rights of American citizens abroad," Henry noted. In an opinion concurring with the Court of Criminal Appeals majority decision to hear Torres' claims that he was denied his access to consular assistance and that he was represented by ineffective counsel during trial, Judge Charles Chapel wrote, "I have concluded that there is a possibility a significant miscarriage of justice occurred, as shown by Torres' claims, specifically that the violation of his Vienna Convention rights contributed to trial counsel's ineffectiveness, that the jury did not hear significant evidence, and the results of the trial is unreliable." (The Oklahoman, May 14, 2004) In addition to those on death row in Oklahoma, Mexican foreign nationals that could be affected by the ICJ's ruling are on death rows in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas. None of these remaining foreign nationals are currently scheduled for execution.

Oklahoma Adds to a Series of Execution Stays
Shortly before the scheduled 6 p.m. execution of Hung Thanh Le, a Vietnamese foreign national on Oklahoma's death row, Governor Brad Henry granted a stay of execution in deference to Vietnamese officials who requested more time to review Le's file. Le, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from fleeing Vietnam, was scheduled to be executed despite a unanimous recommendation for clemency from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. More than 1,700 members of Oklahoma City's Vietnamese community signed a petition calling for clemency. Governor Henry has only delayed the execution and set a new date of March 23. (The Oklahoman, February 27, 2004). In North Carolina, the execution of George Page set for Friday, Feb. 27, was also stayed in light of his challenge to the lethal injection procedure used in that state. In Texas, the April execution of juvenile offender Anzel Jones was stayed by Justice Antonin Scalia as the Supreme Court prepares to review the issue of the death penalty for those under the age of 18. See Foreign Nationals.

Governor Perry Grants First Death Sentence Commutation
Texas Governor Rick Perry, following the recommendation of the state's Pardon and parole board, commuted the death sentence for Robert Smith to Life after testing revealed Smith's IQ was below 65. In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the execution of those with mental retardation was unconstitutional. This is the first death sentence commuted by Governor Perry. (Reuters, March 12, 2004). See Mental Retardation.

Georgia Parole Board Grants 2004's First Clemency
Just one day before Georgia was scheduled to execute Willie James Hall, the state's parole board commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole. During the hearing on Hall's request for clemency, 6 of the jurors from his original trial testified that they would have given Hall life without parole if that sentence had been an option at his trial. In addition, the parole board noted that Hall had excellent behavior in prison and no criminal record before the murder. In 2001, a federal judge in Atlanta threw out Hall's death sentence after finding that his lawyers did not prepare for the sentencing phase of the case, but the sentence was reinstated by a federal appeals court in Atlanta. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, January 26, 2004) See Life Without Parole.

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Clemency News and Developments: 2005

Articles: Schwarzenegger's Mistake: Clemency and Tookie Williams December 27, 2005: The Jurist

Schwarzenegger's Mistake: Clemency and Tookie Williams
By Austin Sarat

By denying clemency to Stanley "Tookie" Williams Arnold Schwarzenegger did more than allow another execution to be carried out. He broke faith with the understandings of those who wrote our Constitution and damaged the intricate balance of our constitutional government. Casually dismissing Williams's contention that he had been "reformed and...redeemed for his violent past," Governor Schwarzenegger's treated his own clemency power as a narrow and limited one. As he explained, the clemency power should not be used "to nullify the jury's decision of guilt and sentence...." except to prevent miscarriages of justice. This is not the way the clemency power was understood by those who made the power "to grant pardons and reprieves" part of our constitutional
system, nor, throughout most of our history, by those charged with interpreting that power or with exercising it.

Although the original versions of the New York and Virginia Plans that provided the frameworks for debate at the Constitutional Convention included no provisions for pardon, revisions to both plans eventually did. The power that emerged from the convention was regarded by the Framers of the Constitution as necessary to a humane and effective scheme of government. Defending executive clemency Alexander Hamilton said, "Humanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little fettered as possible."

Hamilton thought that the pardon power would and should be used mercifully, otherwise "justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel" and, in its merciful use, would ennoble those who wielded it.

Hamilton's understanding of clemency has been reiterated throughout American history by judges and politicians alike. Writing in 1833, in the first clemency case to reach the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall called pardon "an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws...." Twenty years later, the Supreme Court again embraced a very broad view of the clemency power, saying "Without such a power of clemency, to be exercised by some department or functionary of a government, it would be most imperfect and deficient in its political morality, and in that
attribute of Deity whose judgments are always tempered with mercy." In 1866 Justice Field wrote approvingly of what he called the "benign prerogative of mercy."

Lest anyone think that this is an outmoded, old fashioned conception of clemency, from time-to-time a similar standard has been embraced by governors and judges in our own era. Terry Sanford, Governor of North Carolina from 1961-65, provides one example of such a view. "The Executive," Sanford wrote "is charged with the exercise in the name of the people of an ... important attitude of a healthy society - that of mercy beyond the strict framework of the law.... Executive clemency does not involve the changing of any judicial determination. It does not eliminate punishment; it does consider rehabilitation. To decide when and where such mercy should be extended is a decision which must be made by the Executive....It falls to the Governor to blend mercy with
justice, as best he can, involving human as well as legal considerations, in the light of all circumstances after the passage of time, but before justice is allowed to overrun mercy in the name of the power of the state."

Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in a 1993 Supreme Court decision, called clemency the sovereign's "power to extend mercy, whenever he thinks it is deserved....", and five years later said it was "a matter of grace." Rehnquist suggested that this power was designed to allow the executive "to consider a wide range of factors not comprehensible by earlier judicial proceedings and sentencing determinations."

Yet, at least in the context of capital cases, this broad understanding of clemency steadily has been losing favor along with clemency itself.

From 1994-2004 (excluding former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's mass commutation of his state's death row) 25 clemencies were granted across the entire country; forty years earlier in the decade 1954-1964 there were 198 clemencies. As one commentator puts it, capital clemency has "died its own death, the victim of a political lethal injection and a public that overwhelmingly supports the death penalty." Thus at the outset of his administration, then Texas Governor George Bush embraced a standard for clemency that all but ensured that few if any death sentences would be seriously examined. "In every case," [Bush] wrote in A Charge to Keep, "I would ask: Is there any doubt about this individual's guilt or innocence? And, have the courts had ample opportunity to review all the legal issues in this case?" During his six years as governor 150 men and two women were executed in Texas; Bush allowed the execution to proceed in all cases but one. As the journalist Alan Berlow notes, "This is an extraordinarily narrow notion of clemency review: it leaves little, if any, room to consider mental illness or incompetence, childhood physical or sexual abuse, remorse, rehabilitation, racial discrimination, the competence of the legal defense, or disparities in sentences between co-defendants or among defendants convicted of similar crimes." It leaves little room for the kind of claims made by, and on behalf of, Tookie Williams. It is this cramped conception that animated Schwarzenegger's decision to allow Williams's execution to proceed.

Many governors today have turned crime fighting, tough-on-crime policy into a strategy for building political coalitions and strengthening their electoral prospects. Many are afraid that granting clemency to convicted murderers will leave them vulnerable to damaging charges that they are soft-on-crime. As a result, they have let the clemency power atrophy rather than courageously exercising their discretion to accord mercy to the condemned. In doing so they have departed from the original understanding of that power and historical practice. In the Williams case, Governor Schwarzenegger missed an opportunity to reverse that trend and did a disservice not only to Tookie Williams, but to all of us.
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Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Five College Fortieth Anniversary Professor at Amherst College and author of Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution

Copyright 2005 The Jurist

New Resources: New Book Focuses on Clemency in Capital Cases 

A new book by Professor Austin Sarat (pictured) focuses on clemency's role in the U.S. criminal justice system: "Mercy on Trial: What It Means to Stop an Execution." According to U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, "This thoughtful book should be read by every citizen who cares about the issue, and by every governor and president entrusted with the power to punish or pardon." In "Mercy on Trial," Sarat reviews the complexities of clemency and examines issues such as rehabilitation. (Princeton University Press, 2005).

See Books on the Death Penalty. See also Clemency. Happy Holidays!

Baltimore Cardinal Makes Historic Visit With Death Row Inmate Awaiting Execution

Cardinal William H. Keeler (pictured), archbishop of Baltimore and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, made an historic visit to Maryland's death row and met with Wesley Eugene Baker, who is scheduled to be executed in a few days. Cardinals Keeler, Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC, and Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, Delaware also sent a letter to Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich urging him to commute Baker's sentence to life in prison without parole.

"We write as believers, who know that God's justice is seasoned by His mercy. Mercy is what we ask of you in the case of Mr. Baker. . . . [Church teaching] acknowledges the right of legitimate government to resort to the death penalty, but it challenges the appropriateness of doing so in a society now capable of defending the public order and ensuring the public's safety. . . . [N]o decision of your gubernatorial service can be more momentous than the decision to extend, or to withold the hand of mercy," the Cardinals wrote in their appeal to Ehrlich.

After his visit, Keeler noted that Catholic leaders have opposed the death penalty for a quarter of a century, and he stated that the late Pope John Paul II believed that capital punishment is "really sending the wrong message about the sacredness of life." Last month, during the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Bishops approved "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death," an 18-page statement criticizing the administration of the death penalty in the U.S. and stating that it offers a false hope of healing to the survivors of crime.

Keeler's visit to Maryland's death row was the first in modern times by a Maryland bishop. (Baltimore Sun, November 29, 2005).

See Clemency and New Voices.

Virginia Governor Commutes Lovitt's Death Sentence 

Virginia Governor Mark Warner (pictured) commuted the death sentence of Robin Lovitt to life in prison without parole, a decision he made to "ensure that every time the ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly." Warner noted his decision was based on concerns that Lovitt could not pursue new DNA testing on crucial evidence that could prove his innocence. The evidence, a pair of scissors that prosecutors say Lovitt used as the murder weapon, had been thrown out by a Virginia court clerk. During Lovitt's trial, DNA tests on the scissors were inconclusive, and Lovitt's fingerprints were not found on the scissors. His attorneys argued that losing the weapon had resulted in "profound unfairness" because Lovitt could not request more modern DNA tests on the evidence.

"I believe clemency should only be exercised in the most extraordinary circumstances. Among these are circumstances in which the normal and honored processes of our judicial system do not provide adequate relief - circumstances that, in fact, require executive intervention to reaffirm public confidence in our judicial system," Warner said as he announced his decision to commute Lovitt's sentence.

Lovitt was scheduled to be the 1,000th person executed since capital punishment was reinstated, and he is the first person to have his death sentence commuted by Warner. (New York Times, November 30, 2005).

See Clemency and Life Without Parole.

Conservatives Urge Virginia Governor to Grant Clemency Request as 1,000th Execution Nears

A clemency petition filed with Virginia Governor Mark Warner on behalf of Robin Lovitt, who is scheduled to be executed on November 30, has gained the backing of some of the state's most conservative voices. Among those encouraging Warner to commute Lovitt's sentence to life are former Republican Virginia attorney general Mark L. Earley, Rutherford Institute founder John W. Whitehead, and Lovitt's attorney Kenneth Starr, who now serves as dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law.

In May 2001, three weeks after Virginia legislators passed a bill ordering that all biological evidence in death penalty cases be sent to the state forensics lab for safekeeping in case future DNA or other testing was needed, the Arlington County Court ordered destruction of evidence in Lovitt's case. The clerk responsible for destroying the evidence claimed ignorance of wrongdoing. Original DNA testing in Lovitt's case was inconclusive. In his appeal for clemency for Lovitt, Starr noted that DNA testing has greatly improved since the original tests were conducted and that "through no fault of his own," Lovitt cannot take advantage of new DNA technologies.

"I think it's morally unfair to this guy when the evidence was by all accounts clearly destroyed contrary to [state law], and it has clearly prejudiced him," said Earley, who supports capital punishment and is president of the Virginia-based Prison Fellowship Ministries. "[The destruction of evidence] just presents a highly prejudicial cloud over the case. [I]f you impose the death penalty in this case, quite frankly, you undermine the credibility of the death penalty."

Whitehead added, "The governor's authority to commute death sentences is reserved specifically for situations like this one."

Lovitt is scheduled to be the nation's 1000th execution since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Virginia governors have only granted clemency in six death row cases, including four cases that involved questions of possible innocence. Warner has denied each of the 11 clemency petitions that have come before him since he took office in 2002. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 22, 2005).

See Clemency, Innocence, and New Voices.

Editorial Praises Clemency for Mentally Ill Indiana Man Facing Execution

A recent editorial in The Washington Post praised Indiana Governor Mitchell Daniels for commuting the death sentence of Arthur Baird, who suffers from severe mental illness. The editorial noted:

Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R) acted wisely and humanely this week in commuting the death sentence of one Arthur Paul Baird II. There is no question that Mr. Baird killed his parents and his pregnant wife back in 1985. There is also little question that he is seriously mentally ill and was so then. His mental illness was clearly a significant factor in the killings and just as clearly led directly to his death sentence. Because of his delusional state, Mr. Baird inexplicably rejected a plea deal the state had offered him that would have spared his life. Jurors in his case have indicated that had life in prison without parole -- not an option in Indiana at the time -- been available, they would have chosen that rather than death. Family members were similarly inclined. Yet the state parole board recommended against clemency on a 3 to 1 vote, and the Indiana Supreme Court, also divided, likewise declined to step in. Mr. Daniels deserves credit for taking responsibility for preventing Mr. Baird's execution.

Still, other governors in recent years, faced with severely mentally ill inmates on death row, have averted their gaze and let them die. The Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded or those who were not of age at the time of their crimes. That it is still somehow okay to put to death a florid psychotic is a strange and amoral anomaly of contemporary American law, one that cries out for reform. Until that happens, however, executive clemency is the only viable protection. It is refreshing to see a governor willing to step up to the plate.

(Washington Post, September 1, 2005). See Mental Illness, Clemency, and Editorials.

Seriously Mentally Ill Man Receives Commutation in Indiana

Arthur Baird, who was to be executed on August 31 for murdering his parents in Indiana, received a commutation to a life sentence from Governor Mitch Daniels. (, Ch.8, Indianapolis, Aug. 29, 2005). Two members of the Indiana Supreme Court had written that Baird was "only marginally in touch with reality," in a decision in which the majority had allowed the execution to go forward. A report to the court from Dr. Philip M. Coons, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found Baird to be "grossly psychotic and delusional" and mentally unfit to be executed. Indiana's parole board had recommended against a commutation. (Indianapolis Star, August 26, 2005).

See Clemency and Mental Illness.

Georgia Board To Pardon Woman 60 Years After Her Execution 

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has announced that it will issue a formal pardon this month for Lena Baker (pictured), the only woman executed in the state during the 20th century. The document, signed by all five of the current board members, will note that the parole board's 1945 decision to deny Baker clemency and allow her execution was "a grievous error, as this case called out for mercy." Baker, an African American, was executed for the murder of Ernest Knight, a white man who hired her . Baker was tried, convicted, and sentenced to die in one day by an all-white, all-male jury. Baker claimed she shot Knight in self-defense after he locked her in his gristmill and threatened her with a metal pipe. The pardon notes that Baker "could have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, for the death of E.B. Knight." The average sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. Baker's picture and her last words are currently displayed near the retired electric chair at a museum at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 16, 2005).

See Race, Clemency and Women.

Texas Governor Commutes 28 Juvenile Offender Death Sentences 

Texas Governor Rick Perry (pictured) has commuted the death sentences of 28 juvenile offenders to life in prison, an act that brings the state into compliance with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed the practice of executing those who were under 18 at the time of their crime unconstitutional. While some of these inmates will remain in more restrictive segregation, many will have their first exposure to prison work programs, schooling, and jobs within a prison unit.

Current Texas sentencing laws give jurires in capital murder cases the choice of sentencing defendants to executon by lethal injection or life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Last week, Perry signed into law a change that will remove the possibility of parole in life sentences, but the change will not apply retroactively to crimes committed before Septemeber 1, 2005. (Associated Press, June 22, 2005)

See Juveniles, Life Without Parole, and Clemency. See also DPIC's Roper v. Simmons Web page.

Clemency Reforms Urged In Texas

 Texas should overhaul its executive clemency process to ensure a fair and equitable justice system, according to a new report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Innocence Network. The report, "The Quality of Mercy - Safeguarding Justice in Texas Through Clemency Reform," offers a series of recommendations intended to improve the process, including holding public hearings in clemency cases, establishing standards and objective criteria that can be used to guide clemency decisions, granting members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles greater independence, and eliminating a Board provision that requires trial officials to agree to a grant of clemency.

In commenting about the report, Jared Tyler, Deputy Director of the Texas Innocence Network, noted, "The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was established by the Texas Constitution, in part, as a bulwark against prosecutorial and judicial injustice. But through its self-adopted regulations and practice, it has almost entirely subordinated itself to the views of prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement, the very entities it is supposed to check. The Board has relinquished responsibility for independently evaluating evidence of innocence, placing an unjustifiable and needless burden on those who have been wrongly convicted." (Press Release, Texas Appleseed and Texas Innocence Network, February 18, 2005).

Read the Full Report (PDF Format). See also, Clemency.

Los Angeles Times Urges Clemency for Beardslee While Challenging the Arbitrariness of the System

Just days before the scheduled execution of Donald Beardslee in California, the Los Angeles Times has called for his clemency while questioning the even-handedness of the whole system. The editorial concludes that the death penalty is a "lie" to the people of California:

Donald Beardslee was 38 years old in 1981 when he shot one woman and strangled and slashed another in San Mateo County, retaliation for a soured drug deal. He is now 61. So many years have passed since a jury sentenced him to die in the gas chamber that the infamous green room at San Quentin Prison has become a grisly relic. Beardslee's execution, now scheduled for Wednesday, will be by lethal injection.

It's taken state prosecutors nearly 24 years to arrive at this moment, and Beardslee's case alone has probably cost taxpayers more than $1 million. Yet his winding path to the death chamber is hardly unusual, and his case demonstrates the caprice, unfairness and waste woven through California's death penalty.

In concept, many Californians seem to approve of capital punishment; as voters, they regularly declare additional crimes subject to the death penalty. California law now lists more than 30 "death-eligible" special circumstances, more than any other state.

The broad latitude of prosecutors to ask for death and the willingness of juries to comply has put 640 men and women on death row, the largest condemned population in the nation.Texas, which executes its condemned prisoners more swiftly, is second with 455 inmates.

Beardslee was subject to the death penalty because he committed multiple murders. So was Leonard E. Brown. In 1981, the Compton man, then 23, was convicted of two murders committed during a four-day PCP-fueled spree that also included rape, assault and robbery. But the Los Angeles jury that heard Brown's case sentenced him to life without parole instead of death. That same year an Orange County judge sentenced another man, William Caywood, to life after a jury deadlocked over the death penalty. Caywood murdered his two bosses at the gas station where he worked, shooting them execution style.

Three men, each convicted of two murders, yet only one is sentenced to death.

California does more than many states to keep the innocent from being executed and to ensure that those condemned get fair trials. The appeals and assurances may take decades to work their costly way through the courts, which is another matter. But in the whole complicated process, nothing addresses the inequality of the death penalty's application. Judges in California cannot throw out a capital sentence on the ground that defendants who committed similar crimes were not sentenced to die.

So few California lawyers are qualified to handle death-penalty appeals that 248 inmates still have no attorney appointed for at least one phase of this review process. So much cost and time are involved in these complex challenges that Beardslee's execution would be only the 11th since voters reinstated the death penalty in 1978. But speeding up the process would necessarily mean accepting less-qualified lawyers for the appeals and increasing the risk of executing defendants who are innocent or were unfairly convicted.

Beardslee confessed to his crimes, and prosecutors painted him as a calculating, remorseless killer. Those were among the factors that led the jury to recommend death. But Beardslee's appellate lawyers argue that extensive brain damage he suffered in accidents as a child and young man put him under the sway of a domineering accomplice who directed the murders.

The original trial jury heard about those accidents but not about the lasting damage they might have caused or the effect on his personality and behavior. The brain-imaging technology now available didn't then exist. His lawyers' contentions on that damage form the basis of a clemency petition now before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The governor should grant that petition and at least commute Beardslee's sentence to life without the possibility of parole. But Beardslee's case also demonstrates the impossible position California is now in: By erecting a death penalty scheme that sentences so many to death and executes so few, the state lies to itself and the people about what it's doing.

(Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2005) (emphasis added). See Clemency, Editorials, and Upcoming Executions.

Indiana Governor Grants Clemency While Calling for Death Penalty Review 

With just days remaining in his term, Indiana Governor Joe Kernan (pictured) has granted clemency to Michael Daniels, whose case underscored the Governor's concerns about the death penalty. "I have now encountered two cases where doubt about an offender's personal responsibility and the quality of the legal process leading to the capital sentence has led me to grant clemency. These instances should cause us to take a hard look at how Indiana administers and reviews capital sentences," said Kernan, who hopes the state government can soon examine whether Indiana's sentencing system is fair in death penalty cases.

The Governor noted that evidence casting doubt on Daniels' guilt was never presented in court, and that Daniels' IQ of 77 is just above the level to be considered mentally retarded. He also stated that Daniels, who was the only one of three co-defendants to receive a death sentence, was psychotic for some time and unable to assist in his defense. In July 2004, Kernan granted clemency to Darnell Williams just days before his scheduled execution.

This most recent commutation earned praise from the victim's son, Tim Streett, a minister who opposes capital punishment and has supported clemency for Daniels. Streett said that his late mother would have been glad to have the case come to an end, noting, "As long as he (Daniels) was on death row, every couple of years there was a story about it in the paper. She just wanted that to be over." (Associated Press, January 9, 2005).

See Clemency - this is the 228th clemency granted in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, including 171 granted by Gov. Ryan of Illinois; Innocence, and Victims.

Washington Post Explores Gonzales Clemency Memos

The Washington Post has conducted further research into the clemency memos prepared by U.S. Attorney General nominee Alberto R. Gonzales, who served as lead counsel to then-Governor George W. Bush in Texas. Gonzales crafted 62 memos regarding clemency requests from Texas death row inmates, and several Texas attorneys have voiced their criticisms that the clemency memos contained incomplete and unfair summaries of evidence and mitigating circumstances. The memos, first reviewed in 2003 by investigative journalist Alan Berlow for The Atlantic Monthly contained Gonzales's recommendations for each upcoming execution and resulted in Bush's denial of clemency in all but one instance between January 1995 and November 1997. In one memo written about the case of Henry Lee Lucas, Gonzales failed to mention that a 1986 investigation by the Texas attorney general's office concluded that Lucas had falsely confessed to numerous murders and had not killed the victim in the crime for which he was to be executed. "[I]t does not really address in any way...all the questions that were raised about his guilt," said former Texas attorney general Jim Mattox after reviewing the Lucas clemency memo written by Gonzales.

In the case of Kenneth Ray Ransom, defense attorney Jim Marcus believes the memo given to Bush failed to correctly state the basis for Ransom's clemency request. Marcus notes, "Had I known that the 40-page petition I filed would be boiled down to one slipshod sentence in Mr. Gonzales's memo, I would simply have filed a one-sentence petition." Defense attorney David Herman stated that Gonzales's summary of Jack Strickland's case failed to accurately address questions about Strickland's mental competency and was "a skeletal attempt to brief Bush on a complex case." Another Texas defense attorney, Greg Wiercioch, said that for two of his death row clients, appellate courts granted stays of execution or ordered additional evidentiary hearings after Gonzales had declared in his memos that the case had no worthy pending legal issues. (The Washington Post, January 6, 2005).

See Clemency.

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