Governor Phil Bredesen today commuted the death sentence of Michael Joe Boyd (also known as Mika'eel Abdullah Abdus-Samad) to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Boyd, who had been convicted of murder in the course of a 1986 Memphis robbery, had been sentenced to die on Oct. 24. His lawyers had petitioned for commutation, Jan. 5.
The commutation is believed to be the first in Tennessee since the return of the "modern death penalty" in Tennessee, in 1977. Because executions were for a time declared unconstitutional, there were no executions in the U.S., 1960-1972.
Since 1977, Tennessee has executed four persons — three during the Bredesen administration, and one during the term of Gov. Don Sundquist.
The latest to die, Daryl Holton, was executed Wednesday in Tennessee's electric chair.
Boyd, 47, was convicted in 1988. His conviction was upheld by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1990 and 1997.
Gov. Bredesen's statement read, in part, "this appears to me an extraordinary death penalty case where the grossly inadequate legal representation received by the defendant at his post-conviction hearing, combined with procedural limitations, has prevented the judical system from ever comprehensively reviewing his legitimate claims of having received ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase of his trial..."
The Governor continued, "...this combination of inadequate representation and procedural limitations within the judicial system raises in my mind a substantial and unresolved doubt that the trial jury would have imposed the death penalty had the defendant received competent legal representation..."
Earlier this year, Bredesen imposed a hiatus on executions for 90 days while execution protocols were reviewed and modified.
The Tennessee Department of Correction website today says there are 99 inmates on Death Row, though that number may not reflect the departure of Holton. Death Row residents currently range from 23 to 67 years of age. Richard Austin has been on the Row 28 years. The newest resident, Nickolus Johnson of Sullivan County, has been there closer to 28 weeks.
From the time of Tennessee's incorporation until 1916, all who were convicted of capital offenses were hanged and few records were kept. Between 1916 and 1960, when the penalty was declared unconstitutional, 125 persons were electrocuted.