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Governor of Indiana Spares Death Row Inmate

July 03, 2004|From Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Gov. Joe Kernan spared a death row inmate's life Friday days before he was to die by injection, saying it would be unfair to execute him when a mentally retarded accomplice got a life sentence.

The decision followed a unanimous recommendation by the state parole board, which said there were also questions about Darnell Williams' guilt.

It was the first time in 48 years that an Indiana governor granted clemency in a capital case.

Williams and Gregory Rouster were both sentenced to death for the 1986 murders of Rouster's former foster parents, John and Henrietta Rease. But a court ruled that Rouster was retarded and ineligible for execution.

The governor said Rouster was more culpable for the crime. The governor commuted Williams' sentence to life in prison without parole.

"Those who bear the most responsibility for a crime should pay the highest penalty," Kernan said. "Because Rouster cannot be executed for the crime, it is unjust for Williams to be executed."

Williams had been scheduled to die July 9.

Among those who urged clemency were a juror and the case's prosecutor. One witness recanted testimony that implicated Williams, and a new round of DNA testing was inconclusive.

"Given the doubts about the propriety of Williams' conviction and sentence, this action was appropriate," said his lawyer, Juliet Yackel.

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