Governor Bredesen Commutes Death Sentence

On Friday, in a surprise move, Governor Phil Bredesen commuted the death sentence of Michael Joe Boyd, now Mika’eel Abdullah AbdusSamad, to life without the possibility of parole. Boyd was scheduled to be executed on October 24, 2007. This announcement came only two days after the execution of Daryl Holton. Though Boyd’s death sentence was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1998 when they dismissed claims of ineffective counsel, Bredesen acknowledged in his order that the claims of ineffective counsel during Boyd’s sentencing have never been comprehensively reviewed.

Boyd was convicted in 1988 for the murder of William Price during an armed robbery in Memphis. Boyd claimed that he never meant to kill Price but was convicted of felony murder and given the death sentence.

Boyd’s case highlights the substantial problems concerning indigent defense in Tennessee and the lack of adequate representation for those charged with capital crimes. The issue of ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the major issues the legislative study committee on the death penalty is charged with addressing as it begins its work this fall. TCASK is grateful that the Governor acted with openness and fairness in acknowledging the problems with Boyd’s sentence and addressing them. Read more about the commutation.

As E.J. Harbison’s scheduled execution approaches, I can only hope that the Governor will give his case the same scrutiny that he gave to Boyd’s. The issues with Harbison’s case include: police files not turned over to the defense until long after Harbison’s conviction which indicated another man’s involvement in the crime; a serious conflict of interest in that Harbison’s appeals attorney also represented this other man, helping him to avoid charges; Harbison’s co-defendant, David Schreane, who had an extensive criminal record, served only 6 years and committed more violent crime following his release while Haribson, who had no prior criminal record, ended up on death row; none of the powerful mitigating evidence which might have kept Harbison from receiving the death penalty was ever heard by the jury; Harbison was convicted by an all white jury in a county that is over 20% African-American.

If the courts do not provide E.J. Haribson with some relief, I hope that the Governor will examine this case carefully as he determines whether executive clemency is merited. Please call (#615-741-2001) or email the Governor and ask him to grant E.J. Harbison clemency.

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