As I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby just found out, it's good to have friends in high places. Despite being assigned an inmate number by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Libby will not spend a single day in prison. As everyone knows by now, President George W. Bush commuted the 30-month sentence imposed by a federal judge after a jury found Libby guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.
There has been lots of conversation about the special treatment Libby received as compared to other people convicted of crimes who could benefit from the kind of compassion that Libby received -- people who would also like someone to give careful consideration to whether their sentences are "excessive." Some of those people are on death row, waiting to be executed. While 30 months of Libby's life were on the line, for these inmates, it's their life itself that hangs in the balance. And a good number of them have stories that would surely cause reasonable people to reconsider the severity of their punishment.
It is worth noting that when George Bush was governor of Texas, with many of those lives in his hands, he was not so quick to commute sentences. In fact, there were 152 executions during his administration and he granted clemency only once. He even refused to commute the sentence of Karla Faye Tucker -- who was rehabilitated and highly repentant and who had the support of numerous death penalty proponents.
And Bush is not the only governor who has refused to commute death sentences or grant clemency even when there are compelling reasons to do so.
In North Carolina, Elias Syriani was given a death sentence for killing his wife. On the eve of his execution, having already lost their mother, the couple's children went on a vast media campaign to save their father's life and eventually met with the governor of North Carolina Mike Easley. Instead of heeding the pleas of the children not to kill their only remaining parent, the governor allowed the execution to proceed and their father was executed.
In Oklahoma, Jimmy Dale Bland was terminally ill with cancer and doctors gave him six months to live. Many thought the state should have shown compassion and let him die naturally. Instead, it executed this terminally ill man on June 26, 2007.
Troy Anthony Davis currently sits on Georgia's death row, scheduled to die by lethal injection on July 17. He has exhausted his appeals and his only hope is clemency. Davis' strongest argument for clemency is simple -- he may actually be innocent. Six of the nine eyewitnesses against him have recanted, several alleging that the police intimidated them into testifying against Davis. While President Bush considered Libby's prison sentence to be unjust, many disagree. But few would argue the injustice of the execution of a potentially innocent man. Organizations such as Amnesty International have been fighting for Davis to get a new hearing.
Karla Faye Tucker, Elias Syriani and Jimmy Bland could have used a friend in high places. Troy Davis can use one now. And those are just a few of many. The compassion of clemency should not belong only to the well-connected.
Click here to learn more about the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.