In Arizona, where most residents throughout the state seldom experience thunderstorms, data shows that it's more likely criminal offenders will be struck by lightning than granted clemency by the governor. And the rarity of commutation is likely to be exacerbated in the future.
Republican Governor Jan Brewer was already on track to grant the fewest clemency cases in more than two decades when Tommy Londo's application arrived on her desk in June 2011.
Arrested in 2004 for selling $20 worth of crack to an undercover cop, Londo was sentenced to almost 16 years in prison after a zealous prosecutor described Londo to a judge as "a clear societal liability.
But seven years later, Arizona's Board of Executive Clemency saw the realities of the situation —that Londo was addicted to crack by the age of 14, growing up homeless and uneducated in Phoenix while his parents did time in prison, and spending his teens in mental hospitals and shelters. The board also recognized that Londo had rehabilitated himself as a drug-free, model prisoner working on his GED.
So, unanimously, the board—led by former chairman Duane Belcher—recommended to Brewer in a letter that she reduce Londo's sentence to five years. Londo's sentencing judge, the board noted, had even called the state's mandatory sentencing guidelines "excessively harsh.
Brewer. however, overruled the board and denied Londo clemency without comment.
Since January 21, 2009, the day she officially replaced former Gov. Janet Napolitano. Brewer has granted just five commutations—none since December 15, 2010—that weren't due to a prisoner's imminent danger of death. And she's the first governor in at least 34 years to not issue a single pardon, denying all of the board's 13 recommendations during her tenure.
Now that Brewer has replaced three members of the board in April—including Belcher, Marilyn Wilkens and Ellen Stenson—with tough-on-crime hardliners who have loyalties to the private-prison industry, it's become clear that prospects are dim for prisoners seeking reprieves and commutations in Arizona.
In a state where the prison population has increased eight-fold in 30 years: where budget cuts have created a two-year, 900-case backlog for the clemency board; where almost 96% of 76.000 felony criminal cases filed each year are settled by plea bargains that are driven by harsh mandatory minimums; and where Tommy Londo's continued incarceration will cost taxpayers at least $200.000, the clemency process is considered the Arizona criminal justice system's "safety valve," and Brewer its steward.
Yet. Brewer continues to arbitrarily deny worthy clemency applications.
Brewer's most egregious rejection of' commutation is the case of William Macumber, who was convicted in 1975 and sentenced to life for a double homicide he allegedly committed in 1962.
A former state judge told the clemency hoard, however, that another man confessed the killings to him in 1967, but because of attorney-client privilege, he couldn't disclose the man's confession until after his client died.
So, after 34 years in prison, the clemency board in 2009 unanimously recommended that Macumber's sentence should he commuted, and declared not only that Macumber had served excessive time in prison and that he was not a threat to society, but that his conviction was a miscarriage of justice, saying that "the evidence that now exists certainly casts serious doubt on Mr. Macumber's conviction.
Brewer denied Macumber's commutation, however, and in October 2010 she fled a news conference after Macumber's son confronted her about her decision.
"The (clemency) board says he's innocent, yet she still won't do anything," said P.S. Ruckman, an Illinois political science professor who runs a blog on clemency, pardonpower.com. "Sometimes the law has a disproportionate impact and may be too rigid. That's what the pardon power is for. Brewer has the power and discretion to have a larger sense of justice and to do something about it. That's her duty,"
Neither Brewer nor the four governors before her—Napolitano, Jane Hull, File Symington and Rose Mofford—ever commuted a death sentence, allowing 31 executions to be carried out in Arizona since 1992.
Fighting for one's Iife in Arizona has become so futile that Thomas Kemp, a 63-year-old prisoner on death row since being convicted of murder 20 years ago, didn't even ask for a hearing in front of the clemency board before he was executed in April. He wrote in a letter a week before his execution that a hearing would only bring "public humiliation of the prisoner without any chance" of his death penalty being reduced to life imprisonment.
Source: The Arizona Republic, www.azcentral.com
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