USA: Schwarzenegger should grant clemency for 76-year-old wheelchair-user with suspected brain damage facing execution

Amnesty International is calling on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to a seriously ill man with possible brain damage facing execution on Tuesday 17 January, the day after his 76th birthday.

Clarence Ray Allen, a wheelchair-user who is nearly blind and has advanced heart disease and diabetes, is scheduled to be executed in California for ordering three murders. He was sentenced to death in 1982.

Amnesty International, which opposes the death penalty in all cases, is calling on state governor Schwarzenegger to grant clemency to Mr Allen or at least grant a stay of execution to allow testing of the prisoner’s possible organic brain damage.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

“The death penalty is never right, but in the case of a seriously ill elderly man with possible brain damage it is an affront to all standards of decency and justice.

“Governor Schwarzenegger should exercise his power to grant clemency for Clarence Allen as the first step in turning California away from the death penalty.�

Mr Allen, a Choctow Indian, was tried in a predominantly white, rural county and received poor legal representation at trial.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged this in January 2005 - while rejecting an appeal - saying "Trial counsel admits he did nothing to prepare for the penalty phase [of the trial] until after the guilty verdicts were rendered, and even then, in what little time was available, he failed sufficiently to investigate and adequately present available mitigating evidence."

The same court also acknowledged that it was "overwhelmingly plain" that trial counsel's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness."

According to Mr Allen's attorneys, the state at trial relied on the testimony of witnesses who were admitted participants in the crimes and who, in exchange for their testimony, were promised they would not be charged in the crimes. Each of these witnesses are later reported to have admitted they lied at trial.

The results of a study into the fairness of California's death penalty system, released in September 2005, showed that race and location were significant factors in whether a defendant is sentenced to death.

Earlier this week a bill proposing a moratorium on the death penalty was introduced into the California state legislature. The bill proposes suspending executions while a commission appointed by the state Senate studies inequities in the state's criminal justice system.

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