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April 22, 2012

Rare capital clemency granted to Georgia defendant hours before execution

On the same day this past Friday that I had the honor and pleasure of participating in a fantastic clemency symposium at the St. Thomas School of Law in Minnesota, a death row defendant in Georgia had the surprise and good fortune to be granted clemency to avoid his scheduled execution.  This local story reports on this rare grant of capital clemency from The Peach State:

Three days after staying the execution of Daniel Greene, the five-member [Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles] voted to commute his death sentence to life without parole, an unusual move that elicited mixed reactions from the tight-knit community....

Greene, 42, was convicted in 1992 of fatally stabbing 20-year-old Bernard Walker, a former schoolmate who walked in on a robbery at a convenience store in Reynolds, Ga. Greene, whose attorneys claim he was under the influence of drugs, stabbed four other people the same night in a rampage that spanned three Middle Georgia counties.

Bob Bacle, the former Reynolds police chief who had addressed the paroles board this week on behalf of the victims and planned to attend the execution, condemned the decision, saying that justice had been subverted. "What good was it to have a trial 21 years ago and then 21 years later five folks on the board of pardons can second-guess a jury?" Bacle said in an interview. "That's what we've got a system of justice for. What does this tell criminals out there coming along now?"...

The board did not immediately explain its decision. But interviews and court filings suggest the panel may have been moved by Greene's supporters, who said the stabbings were out of character. Greene had been a model inmate on death row, they said, receiving a reprimand only once -- for having too many stamps.

While the Taylor County community was scarred by the crimes, many had greeted the specter of execution with ambivalence, including some of Walker's family members. A petition with more than 500 signatures urging clemency was presented to the board, and a number of well-respected members of the community had spoken on Greene's behalf....

One of Greene's more outspoken supporters had been Patty James Bentley, the chairwoman of the Taylor County Commission who is campaigning for a seat in the state House of Representatives. She wrote an emotional letter to the board asking it to spare Greene. "I really just praise God," she said, "and I pray that Bernard's family will find some peace."...

Mark Shelnutt, a Columbus attorney who prosecuted Greene, told the paroles board that a key factor in seeking capital punishment against Greene had been that life without parole was not an option for Georgia juries at the time. "Obviously, life without parole is no slap on the hand," Shelnutt said. "He’s never going to get out of jail."

The board's decision marked just the fourth time it's granted clemency since 2002.

April 22, 2012 at 09:24 PM | Permalink

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From the article:

Mark Shelnutt, a Columbus attorney who prosecuted Greene, told the paroles board that a key factor in seeking capital punishment against Greene had been that life without parole was not an option for Georgia juries at the time.

"Obviously, life without parole is no slap on the hand," Shelnutt said. "He’s never going to get out of jail."

There is also the "many had greeted the specter of execution with ambivalence, including some of Walker's family members." A local case that always struck me was involved the murder of an elderly person in a robbery. The man's brothers' split on the proper punishment. I also was reading Gabby Giffords' bio (written by her husband). He noted that she changed her mind about the death penalty (their first date was in a prison, where she was researching the topic as a state rep, as I recall) and would oppose it even in her own case. Noted that Ted Kennedy was against it, even though his two brothers were murdered.

The state takes such thoughts into consideration to some degree, but the choice is ultimately the state's. As to overturning the jury, that occurs lots of times, in civil and criminal trials, and the presence of a clemency/pardon system underlines the acceptance of it to some degree. Unless we do away with such post-trial review in all cases, it is wrong-minded (if understandable) to think that sort of thing gives no respect to the jury.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 23, 2012 11:13:50 AM

I would add that I continue to be wary about giving unlimited power to the executive in these cases and support some sort of check, like board approval, at least in some cases.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 23, 2012 11:15:45 AM


| The board's decision marked just the fourth time it's granted clemency since 2002. |

Rarity?

I've only murdered 4 times in the last 10 years and gotten my jury sentence reduced...

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 23, 2012 11:24:41 PM

Are you influenced by :
1:: "interviews and court filings suggest the panel may have been moved by Greene's supporters, who said the stabbings were *out of character*. Greene had been a model inmate on death row, they said, receiving a reprimand only once -- for having too many stamps."

Or

2:: "What good was it to have a trial 21 years ago and then 21 years later five folks on the board of pardons can second-guess a jury?"

[If you agree with 1., please consult the dictionary on irrelevancy. 1. should merely be grounds for executing him with warning rather than without, as Bernard Walker was terminated, if such be grounds for anything.]

Posted by: Adamakis | Apr 23, 2012 11:34:18 PM

I am appalled by this decision. That this defendent was granted clemency sickens me. What is our justice system good for? This man was strung out on illicit drugs and savagely attacked then robbed my aunt and uncle and left them for dead when all they had done was to show him kindness and give him a job. How could anyone can say justice was served in this case? That is an outright lie. I have lost all faith in our justice system. He should have been executed, period.

Posted by: Rosanna Montgomery Hunt | May 6, 2012 6:56:19 PM

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