Innocent Death Row Inmate?
Washington, DC (July 30, 1997) -- Serious questions regarding the guilt of death row inmate Tommy Thompson, and the courts' powerlessness to correct the injustice of a wrongful conviction, are compelling grounds to commute his death sentence, says Judy Clarke, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in a letter to California Governor Pete Wilson. Ms. Clarke notes in her letter that a number of newspapers and former state and federal prosecutors support clemency for Thompson, who is scheduled to be executed August 5.
"As Governor, you are not bound by the rigid standards that restrain the discretion of the courts," Ms. Clarke wrote. "You can consider factors the courts cannot--including questions regarding his guilt, the disparity in sentencing between Mr. Thompson and his co-defendant, the lack of any criminal record for Mr. Thompson and his record of good behavior in prison. A grant of clemency does not demean the loss suffered by the family of Ginger Fleischli; it is, plain and simply, the only fail safe that can stop the execution of a man who may well be innocent."
In 1993, in a regrettable decision which held that the execution of an innocent person does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment," Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the United States Supreme Court noted that "our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible," and that traditionally, "executive clemency has provided the `fail safe' in our criminal justice system."
At least four influential California newspapers have published editorials supporting clemency for Thompson. Recently-discovered statements by his codefendant -- who will soon be eligible for parole -- not only prove that Thompson did not get a fair trial or penalty-phase hearing, but also cast serious doubt on his guilt. In 1995, a federal court vacated Thompson's rape conviction, the special circumstance which forms the basis of his death sentence, but it was reinstated on appeal. NACDL urges Gov. Wilson to act with the courage and mercy to do justice where the courts have failed.
A copy of Ms. Clarke's letter is available at http://www.criminaljustice.org/media/let00088.htm
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.