Washington Sniper Seeks Clemency With Mental Illness Argument To Halt Nov 10th Execution

At this point, it's pretty late in the legal game for John Muhammad, known as The Washington Sniper.  Tried and sentenced to death for the killing of Dean Meyers, the victim of a sniper's bullet at a Manassas, Virginia gas station in 2002, Muhammad has already exhausted appellate avenues aside from the United States Supreme Court.  His attorneys have announced they'll be filing an appeal with the Supreme Court on or before November 3rd.

Asking for Clemency Now Rather than Later

Usually, going to the Governor with a clemency request wouldn't happen until all the court remedies had been exhausted.  With the Washington Sniper, the strategy is different.  Already, his attorneys have met with Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine -- and they've shown the governor a video prepared to support their position.

Mental Illness as a Bar to the Death Penalty

There is already precedent from the United States Supreme Court (Ford v. Wainwright) holding that the mentally ill cannot be condemned to die because it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. 

Why urge clemency with the Governor's Office now?

At the Devine, Connell, Sheldon & Flood website, defense counsel have posted their arguments in the unusual clemency request: 


  • 1.  a juror has said they would not have voted for death if they had known of Muhammad's mental illness; 

  • 2.  experts report that the Washington Sniper suffers from severe mental illness, and this is documented by his brain damage, brain dysfunction, and other neurological deficits as well as his psychotic and delusional behavior; 

  • 3.  he may additionally suffer from Gulf War Syndrome. 


According to media reports, the Governor hasn't been that open to considering clemency for the Washington Sniper -- he's said so, and his office has also leaned on the standard operating procedure of clemency considerations occuring only after judicial review is finished.  

It's an interesting and aggressive tactic that the Sniper's defense counsel is taking.  For all of us that oppose the death penalty, we're rooting for 'em.

Innocent Man May Be Executed in Georgia - The Troy Davis Case

Around twenty years ago, a cop was gunned down in Savannah and Troy Davis was caught and convicted for the crime. Nineteen years old at the time, he was sentenced to die, and he has watched all this time pass - 1989 to today - from a small, bleak Death Row cell over in Georgia.

Teen Sent to Die Without Any Physical Evidence

Davis has consistently maintained he is innocent of this crime. Over the years, the evidence used against him has slipped away: 7 of the 9 witnesses who testified Davis did it have changed their minds and recanted their testimony. Oh, and there never was any physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the crime. It's all eyewitness testimony.

No gun. No bullets. No blood or bone or anything else to use DNA testing on - like they seem to always have in CSI or NCIS.

One of Two Remaining Un-recanting Witnesses Is Rumored to be the Real Killer

Meanwhile, there has been some witness identification of another man as being the shooter - a man who is still free, and has been free all the while that Troy Davis has lived his life behind bars. And, rumors have it that this shooter just happens to be one of the two remaining witnesses that pointed their fingers at Troy Davis and didn't recant later. Wow.

Why the Troy Davis Case?

We're visiting the Troy Davis case this week, because the U.S. Supreme Court isn't. The high court has just taken off on its summer vacation, and before they hung up their "gone fishing" sign, a clerk took the time to notify Davis's attorney that they'll get around to deciding his case when they come back to work in September.

Which means that Troy Davis, who has been through the wringer more than once already (he was two hours away from being executed in September 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the killing), must wait some more.

The U.S. Supreme Court has Waffled

Last September, the U.S. Supreme Court halted Troy's execution. Then - less than two weeks later - the Supremes decided they wouldn't intervene, and released the hounds as it were for Georgia to proceed with the execution. The cavalry appeared in the form of a federal appeals court in Georgia, which granted a temporary stay of execution and let Davis have the chance to continue his appellate fight.

By its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court last fall was telling Georgia that it would not consider the legal issue of whether or not it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty when new evidence has been brought forth that shows the inmate's innocence. (This doesn't seem like a hard question to answer, but they refused it anyway.)

With Troy Davis back before them, Georgia considered the possibility that there might be evidence that proved Davis to be innocent, and then denied his request for a new trial - but was nice enough to hold off on capital punishment to let Troy Davis return to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh. The Georgia Pardons and Parole Board held hearings, too, and even interviewed Davis and the witnesses all over again ...and then denied clemency. Don't know much about this Board, and apparently no one else does either. No records are made; their hearings aren't open to the public.

Davis is black, the cop was white - and Davis is asking for a new trial, not a free pass

Did I fail to mention before this that Davis is black, the cop was white? Well, some folk think this fact is important.

Did I fail to point out that all Troy Davis is asking for is just the chance to have a trial where this exculpatory evidence can be brought before a factfinder? He's not asking for mercy, he's asking for justice.

Troy Davis has some very big supporters in his corner. Like the Pope.

And lots of people think that Troy Davis deserves another trial, to have a chance to bring forth this new evidence. Over 60,000 U.S. citizens have signed a petition asking for just that ... and there's been a lot of public outcry as well, from some people that you may recognize, like:

1. The Pope. Yes, Pope Benedict XVI knows about Troy Davis's case.
2. The European Union. Yes, all 27 countries have cohesively offered their support.
3. Desmond Tutu of South Africa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
4. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Laura Moye of Amnesty International has been quoted as saying that this "gone fishing" delay of the U.S. Supreme Court is good, because it gives Troy Davis and his supporters more time to get publicity for his plight: to let people know that an innocent man is facing execution over in Georgia if nothing happens to stop it.

So, here's my little bit of publicity for Troy Davis. Please, spread the word.

For more information, please visit: Take Action for Troy

Orlando Sentinel's Sarah Lundy wrote a great article this week

On Wednesday, an article by journalist Sarah Lundy appeared in the Orlando Sentinel entitled, "Only Florida's Governors can say how they pick execution order."

In it, Lundy explores the reality that Florida governors mysteriously choose to grant clemency only to a select few on Florida's Death Row and no one knows how or why their decisions are made. Great read.

 
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