Saturday, 15 September 2007

Tenn. governor commutes death sentence

Tenn. governor commutes death sentence

9/14/2007, 7:21 p.m. EDT
The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Two days after Tennessee's first electrocution in 47 years, Gov. Phil Bredesen commuted the death sentence Friday of a man convicted in a fatal armed robbery.

Bredesen cited "grossly inadequate legal representation" received by Michael Joe Boyd during appeals after his 1988 murder conviction in Memphis. The governor commuted Boyd's sentence to life in prison without parole. He had been scheduled for electrocution Oct. 24.

"I've always taken the position that I'm not trying to be the 13th juror; I'm trying to be a backstop," Bredesen told The Associated Press on Friday. "The judicial system just kind of broke down."

Boyd attempted to appeal his conviction based on a claim of ineffective counsel, but his attorney at the time, Dan Seward, failed to provide any evidence to support the claim, according to Boyd's request to the governor.

In his order, Bredesen said Boyd's claims were never comprehensively reviewed because of the actions of his appeals attorney. Seward did not return a message left at his office.

Boyd's death sentence was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in January 1998, when the justices dismissed his claim that prosecutors improperly cited the murder itself as an aggravating factor to support their call for the death penalty.

Now known as Mika'eel Abdullah Abdus-Samad in prison, Boyd was convicted in the shooting of William Price in 1986 at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

According to court records, Price and another man met two prostitutes at a Memphis bar. The four drove to the motel, where Boyd, who was described as a boyfriend of one of the prostitutes, and two other men showed up.

Boyd pointed a pistol in Price's face and robbed the men of $130. Price and Boyd struggled with the gun and Boyd fired at him as he attempted to drive away, according to the court records.

Boyd claimed he never meant to kill Price, but was convicted of felony murder in perpetration of a robbery.

Memphis attorney Robert Hutton, who took over Boyd's case after the problems cited in the governor's order, said the request to the governor was one of Boyd's last legal efforts available before his scheduled execution.

"He is deeply grateful, thankful and deeply remorseful about his actions in his past," Hutton said of Boyd. "He's trying to spend the rest of his life making a positive contribution to society."

On Wednesday, former soldier Daryl Holton became the first Tennessee inmate put to death by electrocution since 1960. He was convicted of murdering his three young sons and their half-sister in 1997 with an assault rifle.

The state's last execution by lethal injection was in May.

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