From the State Parole Board this afternoon: A recommendation
to reduce the sentence of death-row inmate Frank Williams to life without parole. The vote was 4-3. Board members in favor were Leroy Brownlee, Abraham Carpenter Jr., Richard Mays Jr. and Joseph Peacock. Against were John Felts, Carolyn Robinson and John Belken.
After reading today's coverage of yesterday's clemency hearing, the ruling comes as a surprise. Neither this Stephens Media piece
nor the Dem-Gaz story -- in which Williams was quoted as saying 'What really, I think, pissed me off is, he didn't pay me my wages' -- made it appear that Williams made a great case for himself.
But apparently the Board was swayed by the argument that the courts never properly took into account Williams's professional diagnosis of mental retardation. After the Federal Public Defender's office got on the case in 2004, an appeals court ruled that it was too late to bring up the issue.
The recommendation is non-binding on the governor, who can accept or reject it at will. Gov. Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said he could not comment on how Beebe is leaning, nor was DeCample sure whether the governor will make a public announcement before the September 9 execution date if he decides not to commute. However, DeCample confirmed that Beebe's public position is that mental retardation is a determination to be made by the courts. You can see how that puts Williams in something of a bind if the courts never took up the issue in the first place.