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Ohio Parole Board Recommends Clemency Because of Inadequate Representation

UPDATE: (Dec. 17). Gov. Kasich granted clemency to Ronald Post, following the Parole Board's recommendation. On December 14, the Ohio Parole Board (5-3) recommended clemency for death row inmate Ronald Post, saying his legal representation was ineffective and did not meet expectations for a death penalty case. Post is currently scheduled for execution on January 16, 2013.  The Board's recommendation concluded: "[A] majority of the members of the Board find it impossible to overlook the glaring omissions, missed opportunities, and questionable tactical decisions made by Post's several attorneys. The various deficiencies in Post's representation, viewed in totality, call into question whether Post's death sentence was imposed through the kind of just and credible process called for by a punishment of this magnitude." His lawyers issued a statement, saying, "In the nearly 30 years since his case began, Ronald Post has too often been failed by the attorneys assigned to represent him, beginning at his trial." Post's original attorney advised him to plead no contest to the charges against him, with the expectation that he would receive a life sentence. Instead, Post was sentenced to death. Despite his plea, Post has maintained his innocence, and there was evidence of other suspects involved in the crime. The final clemency decision is up to Gov. John Kasich.  


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UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Mentally Ill Oklahoma Inmate To Die Nov. 6

Garry Allen is scheduled for execution in Oklahoma on November 6, the third date set for him this year. Allen's execution has been stayed repeatedly due to questions about his mental competence. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia as well as dementia caused by seizures, drug abuse, and a gunshot wound to his head sustained during his arrest. In 2008, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended that his death sentence be commuted by a 4-1 vote. Governor Mary Fallin granted a stay in order to consider the Board's recommendation, but denied clemency.  Allen murdered his wife 26 years ago, after she had left him and taken their two children.


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Family of Man Executed in Texas Seeks Posthumous Pardon

The family of Cameron Todd Willingham announced they will petition the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant him a posthumous pardon based on new evidence that has emerged since his execution in 2004. Willingham was sentenced to death for the murder of his three children in a housefire in 1991. At his trial, investigators testified that Willingham had intentionally set the fire, but later developments in the science of fire investigation have led experts to believe the fire was accidental. The other evidence presented at Willingham's trial included the testimony of a jailhouse informant who later recanted his statement that Willingham admitted to the crime. The family's petition states, "[S]ince his trial, scientific advances have shattered every assumption underlying the testimony of the two fire investigators who declared to the jury and the court that Willingham had set the fire that killed his children. In fact, today, no credible arson expert would make such a declaration." In a statement, Willingham's family said, "It was Todd's last wish that we help clear his name. It's time for the state of Texas to own up to its mistake and give Todd the justice he deserves." The Innocence Project in New York has taken the lead in working for Willingham's exoneration.


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UPCOMING EXECUTIONS: Texas Defendant Asks Pardons Board to Look Beyond Single Crime

Anthony Haynes is seeking clemency from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Haynes was only 19 when he killed an off-duty police officer who stopped his car in Houston. He had no prior criminal record. His defense lawyers failed to present mitigating evidence that was available at the time of his trial. More than three dozen people have signed statements saying they would have been willing to testify that Haynes’ crime was extremely out of character and that he was known for being a respectful and non-violent teenager. The jury also never heard about Haynes’ history of mental health problems. Among those who have requested clemency is his father, a retired Assistant Chief Investigator with the Houston Fire Department. He said, “The execution of my son by the State of Texas will have a devastating effect on my whole life….Since Anthony is my only child, one of my main purposes for living will be taken away from me by his execution. I am asking you to spare my son’s life, because I know the decisions he made as a teenager are not the decisions he has made as a man. My son is a changed person who has a heart of remorse for taking Sgt. Kincaid’s life.”  Haynes is scheduled for execution on October 18.


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Philadelphia Judge Cites Withheld Evidence in Granting New Sentencing Trial to Terrance Williams

On September 28, Philadelphia Judge M. Teresa Sarmina granted a stay of execution and a new sentencing hearing to Terrance Williams because the prosecutors suppressed important mitigating evidence. The evidence, which could have been presented at trial, indicated the prosecutors knew that Amos Norwood, Williams’s victim, had been a pedophile who sexually abused Williams. The judge’s decision came a day after the Board of Pardons agreed to reconsider Williams’s clemency plea.  On September 17, the Board had voted to allow the execution to proceed. Williams’s defense lawyers also argued that the trial prosecutor struck a deal with Marc Draper, Williams’s accomplice, in exchange for Draper’s testimony that the killing occurred during a robbery, and was unrelated to prior sexual abuse. Williams’s execution had been scheduled for October 3. He would have been the first person executed with full appeals in Pennsylvania since 1962.


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MENTAL ILLNESS: Evangelical Leaders Call for Mercy for Condemned Inmate

On September 26, Florida Governor Rick Scott (pictured) agreed to temporarily stay the pending execution of John Errol Ferguson in order to allow time for a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether Ferguson is mentally competent. The day before, evangelical leaders, including Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor of the 15,000-member Northland Church in Central Florida, sent a letter to the governor urging that Ferguson be allowed to live. They wrote, “The State’s psychiatrists have consistently found, over 40 years, that Mr. Ferguson suffers from severe schizophrenia and mental impairment. Now a senior citizen, he still suffers from delusions and hallucinations....The jurors at Mr. Ferguson’s sentencing hearings did not hear evidence of his extreme and long-term mental illness, the horrific abuse he experienced as a child, or the traumatic brain injury he suffered as a result of a gunshot wound to his head as a young man, which further contributed to his mental illness. Any one of these factors might have persuaded his juries to spare his life and sentence him to life in prison, but his attorneys failed to present any mitigating evidence to the jurors.”  The letter concluded, "Our system must be humane and hold life sacred, while taking every step possible to support and facilitate the healing of victims."


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NEW VOICES: A Mother Shares Her Grief and Joins the Call for Mercy

When Vicki Schieber's (pictured) daughter, Shannon, was murdered in Philadelphia in 1998, she and her family felt enormous grief.  "Losing a loved one to murder," she recently wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. At first, my husband and I didn't know how we could go on with our lives."  Nevertheless, because of their beliefs, "we did not want the man who murdered our daughter to be put to death."  Now she is speaking out in support of Mamie Norwood, whose husband was killed by Terrance Williams, a Pennsylvania death row inmate who is facing execution on October 3.  Norwood, like Schieber, opposes the killing of the man who caused her loss.  She wrote to the governor: "I wish to see his life spared."  Vicki Schieber's opposition to the death penalty was not well received at first: "When our preference for a sentence of life in prison was made public, many wondered whether our wishes should be honored. The district attorney even publicly questioned our emotional health."  She hoped for a better reaction from Philadelphia officials this time for Mrs. Norwood: "The governor and others must respect her wishes for the man who killed her husband and allow her to retain the peace she has found."  Read full op-ed below.


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NEW VOICES: Philadelphia Archbishop Denounces Death Penalty and Urges Clemency for Terrance Williams

In his weekly column, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia voiced the Catholic Church's ongoing opposition to the death penalty in the U.S. and called for clemency for Pennsylvania death row inmate Terrance Williams. "We don’t need to kill people to protect society or punish the guilty. And we should never be eager to take anyone’s life," the Archbishop said. He addressed the needs of murder victims' families, saying "Turning away from capital punishment does not diminish our support for the families of murder victims. They bear a terrible burden of grief, and they rightly demand justice."  He concluded, "When we take a murderer’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture, and we demean our own dignity in the process." He particularly urged clemency for Williams, who is scheduled to be executed in October.  Chaput noted that Williams' attorneys have said he "was repeatedly sexually abused as a youth, including five years of abuse at the hands of the man he murdered, and this helped motivate his violence....Terrance Williams deserves punishment. No one disputes that. But he doesn’t need to die to satisfy justice. We should think very carefully in the coming days about the kind of justice we want to witness to our young people."


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Child Advocates, Former Prosecutors, and Victim’s Widow Urge Clemency for Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

In Pennsylvania--a state that has recently dealt with high-profile cases of child sexual abuse--one victim of such attacks is now facing execution.  On September 6, more than two dozen child advocates joined former jurors, the victim’s widow, as well as former prosecutors and judges in urging Governor Tom Corbett and the Board of Pardons to grant clemency to death row inmate Terrance Williams (pictured).  Williams suffered years of physical and sexual abuse from older males, and he eventually killed two of his abusers while in his teens. In a letter sent to Gov. Corbett, child advocates noted, “The evidence of abuse in this case is clear. There can be no doubt that Terry was repeatedly and violently abused and exploited as a child and teenager by manipulative older men. Terry’s acts of violence have, alas, an explanation of the worst sort: enveloped by anger and self-hatred, Terry lashed out and killed two of the men who sexually abused him and caused him so much pain.” In addition to child advocates and jurors, the victim’s widow supports clemency for Williams, who is deeply remorseful about his crimes. Mamie Norwood, the wife of Amos Norwood whom Williams kiiled, asked that he be spared, “I have come to forgive Mr. Williams. It has taken me many years. I want his life spared and I do not want him executed. I am at peace with my decision and I hope and pray that my wishes are respected.”


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CLEMENCY: Daughter in Canada Asks Montana Governor to Spare Her Father's Life

Ronald Smith (pictured) is one of two Canadian citizens on death row in the United States. Smith is facing execution in Montana for the kidnapping and murder of two members of the Blackfeet Nation thirty years ago. Smith’s co-defendant, Rodney Munro, pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and was returned to Canada and released from jail in 1998. Munro credits Smith for saving his life, saying that he was given a plea deal and released because Smith admitted to the murders. Carmen Blackburn, Smith’s daughter, and her family recently had a one-hour audience with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer to request clemency.  Blackburn said that although the Governor was still unsure of his decision, he did not feel that it is fair for Smith to be executed when his co-defendant was paroled. Blackburn also said that Gov. Schweitzer might be interested in speaking with her father before making a final decision. She said, “He did say he wouldn't mind meeting with my dad. It's one thing to hear about the remorse but when you hear it in my dad's voice and you see it in my dad's eyes — that's the difference. You can't fake remorse because your true colours always show through. You can see how much he regrets what he's done and wishes he could turn time back.”


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