Clemency

REPRESENTATION: Georgia Inmate With Drunk Lawyer Facing Execution

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles will soon consider the clemency petition of Robert Holsey describing a near complete failure in the judicial process that sent him to death row in 1997. As Marc Bookman described in the latest edition of Mother Jones, Holsey was assigned a lawyer, Andy Prince, who consumed a quart of vodka every night of the trial. While preparing Holsey's case, he was arrested in an incident after pointing a gun at a black neighbor and using a racial slur. Despite charges of assault, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness stemming from the racially-charged crime, he was allowed to stay on as defense attorney for a black defendant facing charges of murdering a white police officer. Prince failed to communicate with his co-counsel, Brenda Trammell, who had never tried a capital case, leaving her to perform a complex cross-examination with little time to prepare. She also gave the case's closing argument after almost no notice. Prince failed to present mitigating evidence regarding Holsey's intellectual disabilities and the severe abuse he suffered as a child. A juror from Holsey's trial later said in an affidavit that he would have spared Holsey's life had he heard such evidence. However, state and federal appeals courts have held that, even without the failings of the defense team, the outcome would probably have been the same.

Alabama Pardons Scottsboro Boys--Former Death Row Inmates

On November 21, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously voted to posthumously pardon Charles Weems, Andy Wright, and Haywood Patterson, three of the nine "Scottsboro Boys," a group of black teenagers who were charged in 1931 of raping two white women. Eight of the nine defendants, including the three who were recently pardoned, were originally sentenced to death. The racial injustice of the case sparked protests and two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one because the defendants did not receive adequate counsel and the other because no blacks were allowed to serve as jurors during the trials. The three who were recently exonerated were the last of the group who had not already been pardoned or had charges against them dropped. Legislation passed in Alabama earlier this year allowed the Board to grant posthumous pardons in cases involving racial or social injustice. The pardon and parole board's assistant executive director, Eddie Cook, said, "Today, we were able to undo a black eye that has been held over Alabama for many years." Alabama Gov. Robert J. Bentley said, “The Scottsboro Boys have finally received justice.”

Ohio Execution Stayed at 11th Hour to Consider Inmate Organ Donation

On November 13 Ohio Governor John Kasich stayed the execution of Ronald Phillips less than 24 hours before he was to be die by lethal injection in order to consider Phillips' request to donate a kidney to his mother. Kasich stated, “I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues then we should allow for that to happen.” Medical experts will now have time to determine whether Phillips would be a suitable donor for his mother, who is on dialysis, and other implications of the donation can be considered. In 1995, Delaware death-row inmate Steven Shelton was allowed to donate a kidney to his mother. His death sentence was later reversed for other reasons. However, in Florida, Joseph Brown was not allowed to donate a kidney to his brother, who later died. Brown was freed from death row after being exonerated in 1987. Phillips also offered to donate his heart to his sister after he was executed, but donations of vital organs have not been allowed during U.S. executions because of ethical issues. Texas allows general prisoners to donate non-vital organs, but not those on death row.

Florida Identifies Over 100 Inmates Nearing Execution

Following the provisions of Florida's recently passed "Timely Justice Act," the clerk of the state's Supreme Court has identified 132 inmates on death row who are "warrant ready," based on their appeals. However, fewer than 20 of those inmates have begun the executive clemency process that must be completed before an execution can take place. Once the governor signals that the clemency process is over for an inmate, a death warrant must be signed in 30 days, but there is no mandatory schedule for the initial review. Over 150 attorneys representing inmates on Florida's death row are challenging the constitutionality of the law, saying it violates the separation of powers, as well as the inmates' rights to due process and equal protection. Stephen Harper, a law professor at Florida International University, said, "This [law] could create an unnecessary constitutional mess between the governor, the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court as it's being litigated right now." Florida has already executed 5 inmates in 2013, second only to Texas. No one on death row has been granted clemency in Florida in 30 years.

NEW VOICES: Ohio Prosecutor Now Seeks Clemency for Death Row Inmate

Timothy McGinty, the Chief Prosecutor of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, is encouraging the Ohio Parole Board to recommend clemency for death row inmate Billy Slagle (pictured). Slagle was sentenced to death in 1988 for the murder of his neighbor, Mari Ann Pope. At the time of the murder, Slagle was only 18 years old, which, along with Slagle's problems of substance abuse and his record of good behavior in prison, has now led the county prosecutor to support a commutation. In his statement to the Parole Board, McGinty said, "While in no way do these factors excuse or mitigate the crime and need for appropriate punishment in this case, they would likely have led a jury to recommend a sentence of life without the possibility of parole had that been an option." At the time of Slagle's sentencing, the maximum available sentence other than death was life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. Slagle's clemency hearing is scheduled for July 8. His execution is scheduled for August 7. Governor John Kasich has the power to grant clemency even if the Board does not recommend it.

Oregon Supreme Court Affirms Governor's Halt to All Executions

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Governor John Kitzhaber may delay the executions of the state's death row inmates during his term of office. In 2011, Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on all executions in the state, saying, "I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor." That decision was challenged by death row inmate Gary Haugen, who had waived his appeals in order to speed up his execution. Haugen argued that the reprieve was invalid because he refused to accept it, but the Court rejected that argument, ruling that the governor's clemency power is not dependent on the inmate's acceptance and noting that the reprieve will come to an end when the governor leaves office. Kitzhaber has urged the state legislature to allow a statewide vote on the death penalty. Because Oregon's death penalty was instituted by popular vote, it can only be repealed by a ballot measure. Oregon has had 2 executions since the death penalty was reinstated, both involving inmates who waived their appeals.

CLEMENCY: Oklahoma Board Recommends Mercy for Inmate Facing Execution

UPDATE: Gov. Mary Fallin refused to grant clemency to Davis. On June 6, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Brian Darrell Davis, who is facing execution on June 25. The board voted 4-1 to recommend that Davis's death sentence be commuted to life in prison without  parole. The parole board recommended clemency after Davis took responsibility for the crime and apologized to the family of the victim. "A weight lifted off of all of us," said his mother, Yvonne Davis. "Brian does deserve a second chance." Davis was convicted of murdering his girlfriend's mother. The recommendation now goes to Governor Mary Fallin, who can approve or reject the vote. The governor also has the authority to grant a 30-day stay in order to consider the case further.

EDITORIALS: Colorado Case Raises Doubts About Entire Death Penalty System

Colorado recently set an execution date in August for Nathan Dunlap, who has been convicted of multiple murders. This would be first execution in the state in 16 years. In an editorial, the Aurora Sentinel recommended that the governor spare his life, not because of doubts about his guilt, but because of doubts about other aspects of the process that led to his death sentence: "There is simply too much doubt about the effectiveness of the death penalty. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap drew the sentence because of his race. There is too much doubt about whether Colorado residents have grown to see how barbaric and expensive it is. There is too much doubt about whether Dunlap’s circumstances, rather than his crimes, brought on a death sentence." The editors concluded an execution would be a step in the wrong direction for Colorado: "To move forward on this case with so much in doubt would only add another tragic crime to those that Dunlap has wrought upon all of us." Read the editorial below.

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