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.

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)