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Amnesty International Calls On Gov. Riley to Commute Wood Death Sentence; Cites Inadequate Legal Representation, Mental Disability

WASHINGTON - Amnesty International today made a final plea to Alabama Governor Bob Riley, asking him to commute the death sentence of Holly Wood, a 50-year-old African American man with significant mental impairments who is scheduled for execution tomorrow. The human rights organization sent the governor a letter explaining its concerns about the case, and for several weeks Amnesty International members worldwide have written to the governor's office to raise the issue of Wood's legal representation, which four federal judges found to be constitutionally inadequate at the sentencing stage of his 1994 trial.

Wood was convicted of murdering an ex-girlfriend in September 1993. At the sentencing hearing, Wood was represented by a lawyer who had been admitted to the bar five months earlier, had no trial or criminal law experience and had never before worked on a capital case. This was counter to Alabama law, which required that lawyers appointed to capital cases had at least five years' experience in criminal law.

"When four federal judges at three courts believe that an individual's legal representation doesn't square with constitutional protections, the state should really question the appropriateness of meting out such a severe and irreversible punishment," said Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA's (AIUSA's) Death Penalty Abolition Campaign. "Ruby Gosha's life was tragically cut short, an injustice that cannot be ignored. But two wrongs don't make a right. Alabama cannot correct the past by executing a man, especially one whose mental functioning is so clearly impaired."

The presentation of mitigating evidence at the sentencing was minimal. There was no evidence about Wood's mental ability despite his lawyers being in possession of an expert report indicating that Wood operated, "at most, in the borderline range of intellectual functioning." Because of the lawyer's inadequate investigation, the fact that as a child Wood had been in special education classes for low IQ children was not investigated or presented to the jury. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized in 2004 that "impaired intellectual functioning is inherently mitigating" and in 2000 said that a capital defendant who is "borderline mentally retarded, might well...influence[e] the jury's appraisal of his moral culpability."

Amnesty International unconditionally opposes the death penalty. The United States has carried out 1,224 executions since resuming judicial killing in 1977. Alabama accounts for 47 of these executions. There have been 36 executions in the United States this year, three of them in Alabama.


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