Wednesday, May 9, 2007

TCASK Statement on Workman Execution


Workman's Execution Proves Tennessee's Death Penalty is Broken

Nashville: When the state of Tennessee executed Philip Workman at 1:00am this morning, it did more than kill a man; it destroyed any argument that Tennessee's death penalty system can possibly be trusted to hand down fair and equitable justice. In the end, the legal wrangling came down to the question of whether or not the Sixth Circuit Court had the authority to overturn a temporary restraining order put in place by a Federal District Court judge. No court actually considered evidence suggesting that Workman was factually innocent of the murder of Memphis Police Officer Ronald Oliver.

Workman was convicted of the 1981 shooting of Lt. Oliver during a robbery of a Wendy’s restaurant. While Workman has never denied the robbery, evidence brought to light after his initial conviction strongly indicates he did not fire the shot which killed Lt. Oliver. According to an opinion by Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Drowota, if Workman did not fire the shot which killed Lt. Oliver, than he was not guilty of capital murder.

Only one witness, Harold Davis, claimed to have actually seen Workman shoot Lt. Oliver. But since the initial trial, Davis, who had a history of calling in false tips to police in the hopes of a reward, has confessed that he perjured himself and actually was not present at the crime scene. He has passed a polygraph examination verifying this testimony. Worse yet, the only expert forensics testimony on the record, that of Dr. Cecil Wecht, concludes that “to a degree of medical certainty” the bullet that killed Ronald Oliver could not have come from Workman’s gun, a .45 caliber pistol. Wecht's testimony is based both on the size of the exit wound and on the fact that the bullet exited the body at all. Both are inconsistent with the type of gun and ammunition that Workman was using. This suggests that Oliver was killed by friendly fire. Five of the jurors from Workman's trial, the original prosecuting attorney, and Lt. Oliver's daughter have all called for clemency for Workman.

All this evidence should be disturbing to anyone concerned with fairness and justice, regardless of their position on the death penalty. But what should be even more disturbing is the fact that Workman went to his death without any court having substantively considered these facts. Tennesseans deserve to know that their state is taking every necessary precaution to guarantee that it does not take life unjustly. How can we afford to believe this anymore when we execute a man without considering the strong evidence that he did not commit the crime for which he was executed.

Proponents of the death penalty continually maintain that it represents justice. But armed robbery is not a capital offense. Across the country more than 120 people have been exonerated from the death rows of 25 states. Paul House currently sits on Tennessee’s death row for a crime that the United State Supreme Court ruled that no reasonable juror would find him guilty of if presented with all the evidence. And recent investigation has suggested that several innocent men have been executed. With the execution of Philip Workman, Tennessee destroyed ant reasonable argument that its death penalty is administered fairly. It is far past time that we stop all executions until we can guarantee that fairness, equity, and true justice prevail.

Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director
Alex Wiesendanger, Associate Director


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