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Amnesty International Urges Clemency for Stephen West
West ‘Is the Poster Child for Clemency,’ Human Rights Organization Says
WASHINGTON - October 28 - Amnesty International has mobilized its worldwide membership to call on Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to grant clemency for death-row inmate Stephen West, who is scheduled to be executed on November 9. The human rights organization maintains that serious issues surrounding West's case render him ineligible for the death penalty.
In a letter to the governor, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) Executive Director Larry Cox wrote, "Mr. West may be executed despite his history of severe child abuse, his history of mental illness, and that he may not have committed the crime for which he is scheduled to die...I strongly urge you to continue to demonstrate your respect for justice and human life by doing everything in your power to commute the death sentence of Stephen West." Cox also urged Bredesen to support a moratorium on executions in Tennessee.
Stephen West and Ronald Martin were charged with the 1986 murders of Wanda Romines and her 15-year-old daughter, who had also been raped. West's attorneys argued that Martin was the architect of the crime and that West had failed to stop him under threats of violence from Martin. They entered a pre-trial audiotape conversation in which Martin said that West did not kill the two victims. The judge ruled the tape inadmissible on grounds of hearsay. West was sentenced to death in March 1987. Martin was ineligible for the death penalty under state law because he was under 18 at the time of the crime.
As is common in capital cases, West was represented poorly at trial. His two lawyers hadn't worked on death penalty cases before, and they failed to investigate and present evidence of severe parental abuse in West's childhood. Several mental health experts have concluded that this abuse left West with a serious mental disorder that affected his conduct at the time of the crime, an issue that could have been used as a defense against his conviction for capital murder or in mitigation against the death penalty.
In May 2010, a doctor retained by West's appeal lawyers reviewed the prisoner's medical records and found that West, whose family has a history of mental illness, has been diagnosed on death row as suffering from major depression, paranoid schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
"Stephen West is a poster child for clemency and an example of why the death penalty is futile. Putting to death a severely mentally ill person who had unconscionably poor legal representation and may not have committed the crimes in question will not serve the interests of justice," said Laura Moye, director of AIUSA's Death Penalty Abolition Campaign.