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.