Conditional Pardons Granted for Three of Norfolk Four

On August 6, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine held a press conference announcing conditional pardons to three of the four sailors known as the Norfolk Four. Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Eric Williams and Derek Tic were were convicted of the 1997 rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko. The pardoned defendants, Danial Williams, Dick and Tic were originally given life sentences, while Eric Williams was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison and had been released earlier.  The governor reduced the sentences of the three imprisoned men to time served, and they will be released soon.

This case has drawn widespread attention because of the lack of physical evidence linking the four to the crime, evidence of coerced confessions, and a letter from Omar Ballard, an acquaintance of Moore-Bosko, who confessed to the crime. Ballard's DNA was found at the scene of the crime, and in his confession, he said he acted alone. For more information, read: Men Threatened With the Death Penalty May Have Confessed to a Crime They Didn't Commit.

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INTERNATIONAL-CLEMENCY: Kenya Commutes 4,000 Death Sentences

kenya flagThe President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, announced on August 3 that he is commuting the death sentences of everyone on the country's death row to life imprisonment.  The President cited the wait to face execution of the more than 4,000 death row inmates as "undue mental anguish and suffering."  No one has been executed in Kenya for 22 years.  The President said he was  following the advice of a constitutional committee.  Mr. Kibaki has directed government officials to study whether the death penalty has any impact on fighting crime and he appealed to Kenyans to engage in a national debate on the issue, suggesting the government may be preparing the ground for a repeal of the death penalty.



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Ohio Parole Board Recommends Clemency for Death Row Inmate

The Ohio Parole Board made a rare recommendation of clemency on July 17, voting 5-2 that Jason Getsy's death sentence should be reduced to life without parole.  Getsy is scheduled to be executed on August 18 for the murder of Ann Serafino in 1995.  A co-defendant who initiated and organized the crime received a lesser sentence of 35 years to life.   "In imposing a death sentence, it is imperative that we have consistency and similar penalties imposed upon similarly situated co-defendants," the Parole Board said.  Since Ohio resumed executions in 1999, the Parole Board has only recommended clemency two other times, and in both cases the governor followed the recommendations.

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NEW RESOURCES: DPIC Offers Podcasts on Costs, Clemency, and Arbitrariness

If you would like to listen to a brief but informative discussion of key death penalty issues, try DPIC’s newest resource--Podcasts.  The most recent episode of this educational series explores the issue of the Costs of the death penalty.  You can also choose to listen to previous episodes to learn more about the issues of Arbitrariness and Clemency.  Podcasts may be downloaded for listening later on a digital music player.  More issues will be covered in the near future.  To subscribe to the Podcast through iTunes and automatically receive future episodes, click here.  To see other multimedia resources from DPIC, go to our Multimedia page. See also DPIC's pages on Arbritrariness, Clemency, and Costs.

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27 Former Judges and Prosecutors File Amicus Brief with U.S. Supreme Court on Behalf of Troy Davis

On May 20, twenty-seven former judges and prosecutors from across the political spectrum filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis.  Signers of the amicus brief include Larry Thompson (Deputy Attorney General of the United States, 2001-2003), former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA; U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, 1986-1990); William S. Sessions (Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1987-1993), and John Gibbons (former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit). Their brief urges the Court to order an evidentiary hearing in District Court, arguing that “Mr. Davis’ petition for an original writ meets this Court’s exceptional circumstances test because Mr. Davis can make an extraordinary showing through new, never reviewed evidence that strongly points to his innocence, and thus his execution would violate the Constitution.” Davis’ attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus with the Court, pursuant to its original jurisdiction, asking for the same hearing.  Davis has a significant amount of new evidence pointing to his innocence that has never been fully reviewed in court.  He was sentenced to death primarily on eyewitness testimony, but 7 of the 9 eyewitnesses have recanted their testimony and some evidence points to one of the two remaining witnesses as the person who committed the murder.   The amicus brief may be read here and the original writ of habeas corpus may be read here.

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NEW VOICES: Missouri Republicans Raise Death Penalty Concerns

Missouri’s Republican House Majority Leader Steven Tilley says Governor Jay Nixon should commute the death sentence of Dennis Skillicorn, who is scheduled to be executed on May 21.  Citing revelations that another suspect committed the murder while Skillicorn was unaware of the murder plan, Tilley said, "Certainly, that would be enough reasonable doubt for me that I would be very concerned if this state executed that individual.”  Tilley’s suggestion to the Governor was made during Missouri’s legislative debate over a proposed two-year moratorium on the death penalty.  Republican Rep. Bill Deeken had proposed a two-year moratorium on the death penalty. "I think it is wise for officials to conduct a study to see how many people have been wrongly convicted in Missouri and to help rebuild confidence in the accuracy of our system," said Deeken.  Tilley expressed support for a study, saying, "I support the commission doin' the study to prove that the death penalty is taken care of properly in the state of Missouri.” 

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NEW RESOURCES: Amnesty International Report Focuses on Executions in Texas

Amnesty International has released a new report entitled, “Too much cruelty, too little clemency: Texas nears 200th execution under current governor.”  It examines many of the nearly 200 executions that have occurred during Governor Rick Perry’s term in office, as well as a few cases where executions are imminent.  The organization states that the Governor is not solely responsible for the fate of those on death row, but notes that Perry has “rarely exercised his power of reprieve, or used his authority to seek commutation of a death sentence, and continues to advocate strongly for capital punishment.”  The full report may be found here.

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Troy Davis Appeal Rejected; Oklahoma Board Recommends Clemency for Donald Gilson

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied habeas corpus relief to a Georgia death row inmate who claims he is innocent  and who has received international support.  In a 2-1 decision, the court held that Troy Davis could have presented most of his new evidence earlier and that the evidence did not offer clear and convincing proof of his innocence.  Hence, the court did not consider his free-standing claim of innocence on its merits, but concluded it was barred because of the delay in filing.  The court did say he could raise his claim directly with the U.S. Supreme Court, and they stayed his execution to allow time for that appeal.  Judge Rosemary Barkett dissented, saying, "The concept of punishing an innocent defendant with the penalty of death simply because he did not file his papers as early as he should have is draconian. . . . where a defendant who can make a viable claim of actual innocence is facing execution, the fundamental miscarriage of justice exception should apply and AEDPA’s procedural bars should not prohibit the filing of a second or successive habeas petition."

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UPCOMING EXECUTION: Man to be Executed Changed Lives While on Death Row

UPDATE: JOSE BRISENO RECEIVED A STAY OF EXECUTION ON APRIL 2.  Texas death row inmate Jose Briseno is scheduled to be executed on April 7.  However, a stream of letters and support, including some from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice staff, fellow prisoners, and a network of people outside of prison has been sent to the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles asking that his sentence be commuted to life. According to the clemency petition submitted by his attorney, during his 17 years on death row, Briseno developed a profound spirituality that affected many people. Letters from people he impacted said he would be of greater service to society and to the prison by being allowed to live rather than executed.  Briseno was convicted in 1992 of the murder of the sheriff in Dimmit County, Texas.  See a video about Jose Briseno's life here.

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Texas Execution Scheduled Despite Allegations of Obstruction of Justice

Willie Pondexter is scheduled to be executed in Texas on March 3 despite a civil suit filed by his attorneys alleging interference by the state in the attorneys' investigation into Pondexter's model behavior and rehabilitation during 14 years on death row.  In Texas, the key factor in determining whether a defendant is sentenced to life or death is whether he represents a future danger to society.  Pondexter's attorneys from the Texas Defender Service had received information that correctional officers from death row were willing to formally attest to Pondexter's excellent record and the attorneys sent representatives to obtain statements.  Those representatives were detained by the local sheriff's office and told not to return to death row.  The suit claims that Texas prison officials interfered with the work necessary to prepare a clemency petition for Pondexter.  He is seeking a stay of his execution date.

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