Clemency

NEW VOICES: Former Texas Governor, FBI Chief Ask Texas to Commute Death Sentence

Former Texas Governor Mark White and former FBI director William Sessions have petitioned Texas to grant clemency to death row inmate Max Soffar because of the strong chance that a reversal of his conviction will come too late due to his rapidly declining medical condition. Soffar's case has been reversed before, and his latest appeal is pending before a federal court. Soffar's supporters are asking that he be allowed to spend his last days at home before he dies of liver cancer. He has been on death row for over 33 years, consistently maintaining his innocence. "Nothing can save me," said Soffar. "I'm going to die. I've talked to my doctor — maybe five months, maybe four months, maybe three weeks." His lawyers said, "The reality is that the federal court process will likely not be completed before Mr. Soffar dies. The exigency of this situation is the driving force behind what Mr. Soffar admits is an unusual request for clemency at this stage of a capital case."

Georgia Grants Clemency Just Before Execution

On July 9, just one day before he was scheduled to be executed, Tommy Lee Waldrip was granted clemency by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Waldrip will now serve a sentence of life without parole. Although the Board did not give a reason for its decision, one of the issues raised in the case was the disproportionality of Waldrip's sentence compared to that of his co-defendants. Three men were involved in the murder that sent Waldrip to death row, but the other two were given life sentences. One of those was Waldrip's son, who was directly involved in killing the victim. He has been eligible for parole since 1998. Waldrip is the ninth death row inmate to receive clemency in Georgia since 1976, and the 275th in the nation. This is the second clemency granted in the U.S. in 2014.

First Lethal Injections Since Botched Oklahoma Execution Veiled in Secrecy

Georgia and Missouri each carried out an execution on June 17 and 18 respectively, marking the first executions since the botched lethal injection of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on April 29. Georgia executed Marcus Wellons (l.) after challenges to the state's lethal injection secrecy law were denied. One of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit that allowed the execution wrote separately of the "disturbing circularity problem" in requiring Wellons to show that the planned method of execution would cause him unacceptable harm, but denying him the information to support such a claim: "How could he when the state has passed a law prohibiting him from learning about the compound it plans to use to execute him?" In Missouri, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit lifted a stay of execution that had been in place for John Winfield (r.) allowing his execution just after midnight on June 18. Winfield's execution had been stayed because correction officials had interfered with the clemency process by pressuring a prison employee who intended to testify in favor of clemency for Winfield. Missouri's lethal injection process was also challenged because of its failure to divulge the source of its drugs.

Missouri Juror Describes Pressure to Vote for Death

UPDATE: Winfield's execution was stayed on June 12 because of state interference with the clemency process. EARLIER: John Winfield is scheduled to be executed in Missouri on June 18 despite an affidavit submitted by one of the jurors at his trial stating she was pressured to switch her sentencing vote from life in prison to death. Kimberly Turner, who served on Winfield's jury in 1998, recently described the jury's initial deliberations: "Another juror and I had voted for life without the possibility of parole. That was my vote. In my heart, that has always been my vote." In Missouri, a jury recommendation for death must be unanimous; if just one juror votes for a life sentence, the defendant is sentenced to life. When the jury told the court they were unable to reach a unanimous sentencing verdict, they were told to continue deliberating. "Even though I had voted for life without parole," Turner said, "when an officer of the Court told me to keep deliberating, I thought that I had to. It was Friday afternoon and the other jurors were tired of being sequestered and wanted to go home. They were pressuring me and the other life vote to change our votes to death...As the afternoon went on, the other jurors wore me down. I had not wanted to keep deliberating, but after the order to continue, I did not know how long I was supposed to keep defending my vote for life...So I changed my vote to death. It is a decision that has haunted me."

CLEMENCY: Ohio Governor Commutes Death Sentence, Citing 'Troubling Irregularities'

On April 30 Ohio Governor John Kasich commuted the death sentence of Arthur Tyler to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The decision followed a recommendation for clemency from Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty. Following a hearing on the case, the Ohio Parole Board recommended commutation of Tyler's sentence to life with parole: six of the eleven members recommended immediate parole eligibility for Tyler, and the remaining five favored a sentence of 33 years to life, which would have made Tyler parole eligible in two years. In his commutation announcement, Kasich said, “The questions that continue around this case are fundamental and the irregularities in the court proceedings are troubling." Tyler's co-defendant, Leroy Head, confessed to the crime but testified that Tyler was the triggerman, securing himself a lesser sentence. Head was released from prison in 2008. McGinty cited Head's "evolving statements" as a "cause for concern" in asking for clemency for Tyler, and the Parole Board agreed, adding that a sentence with parole eligibility, "would also make Tyler’s sentence more proportionate to the sentence imposed upon Head."

NEW VOICES: Ohio Prosecutor Calls for Clemency for Death Row Inmate

In a petition to the Ohio Parole Board, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty (pictured) requested the death sentence of Arthur Tyler be reduced to life in prison without parole. McGinty said, "At the time of Tyler's trial, Ohio law did not allow for the possibility of a sentence of life without parole for an aggravated murder conviction....In light of the limited sentencing options, the absence of the option of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in this case may have led to the imposition of the death sentence." The petition also said that "evolving statements" from Tyler's co-defendant, Leroy Head, "are cause for concern" and "may undermine public confidence in Tyler's sentence." Tyler has consistently maintained his innocence, and is asking the Parole Board for a commutation to a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. Head was released from prison in 2008.

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.”

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