Boyd Death Sentence Commuted
Governor Commutes the Death Sentence of Michael Joe Boyd
Today in a surprise move, Governor Phil Bredesen commuted the death sentence of Michael Joe Boyd, now Mika’eel Abdullah Abdus-Samad, to life without the possibility of parole. Boyd was scheduled to be executed on October 24, 2007. This announcement comes 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 the story HERE.
E.J. Harbison, scheduled to die on Sept. 26, is still awaiting a judge’s ruling in his challenge to the constitutionality of lethal injection. A ruling should be made by early next week. Depending on the outcome of that hearing, the Governor may be faced with making another decision on Harbison’s behalf.
The Harbison case is as problematic as the Boyd case, if not more so. Harbison had no prior criminal record and was given the death penalty for a bungled robbery where an elderly woman was hit with a vase. Though tragic, this murder was hardly premeditated nor “the worst of the worst.”
In the Harbison case, police records first requested before trial by the defense, were not turned over to Harbison until 1997, 14 years after they were requested. In the police file, counsel discovered that an eyewitness placed David Schreane, Harbison’s co-defendant, across the street from the victim’s house near the time of the crime and did not identify Harbison as the man with Schreane. Schreane, himself, first told police a different person was with him. Yet Schreane served only six years, while Harbison faces a death sentence.
The police file shows substantial involvement by another man, Ray Harrison, who was seen near the victim’s house around the time the crime was committed. Harbison’s direct appeal attorney also represented Ray Harrison concerning this crime, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. The police extradited Harrison to Florida when Schreane implicated Harbison.
If the courts do not grant Haribson relief, the Governor will be called upon again to give E.J. Harbison the same fair consideration which he demonstrated today in his decision in the Boyd case—fairness that should be of the utmost priority in every capital case. Click here to learn more about E.J. Harbison's case.