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Florida Rejects Sakharov Plea to Spare Killer

January 21, 1988|Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Bob Martinez has rejected a plea by Soviet dissident Andrei D. Sakharov to stop the scheduled execution next month of a convicted killer who human rights activists say may be innocent.

Sakharov, winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize for his defense of human rights in the Soviet Union, called Western reporters in Moscow on Wednesday to read them a letter to Martinez regarding convicted murderer Willie Jasper Darden. He made the appeal at the request of Amnesty International.

The 66-year-old physicist said he has made just one such previous appeal on behalf of an American prisoner, about 10 years ago and also at the request of London-based Amnesty International.

Martinez's office repeated statements made earlier in the week after an Amnesty International news conference seeking clemency for Darden.

"The governor is not going to base his actions in this matter on press conferences, celebrities or others," press secretary Jon Peck said Wednesday. "We respect their concerns, but their concerns are not the basis on which the governor makes his decisions."

Other Notables Appeal

At the news conference, a halt to Darden's execution was urged by actress Margot Kidder, Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell and Amnesty International. Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson issued a supporting statement.

Darden, 54, has been on death row for 13 years; only one inmate has been there longer. He was sentenced to death in the slaying of a furniture store owner in a 1973 holdup, but his execution has been stayed five times. The execution is scheduled for Feb. 3.

Amnesty International says the trial of Darden, who is black, was tainted by racial prejudice and that new evidence uncovered in 1986 proves Darden was elsewhere at the time of the holdup.

In his letter to Martinez, Sakharov wrote: "I ask you to intervene in the affair of Willie Darden. I am convinced that capital punishment is an inhumane institution for which there can be no room in a civilized, democratic society. Injustice or a mistake in relation to an executed person cannot be set right."

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