By Christopher Hill, State Strategies Coordinator for the ACLU Capital Punishment Project
During the last general election there was much discussion about the power of the executive branch. One great power that the executive branches of the federal government and most states have is the power to grant clemency.
The ability to examine a person's life and decide to grant him or her mercy is awesome. This ability is even more incredible in the capital punishment context. It gives the executive the chance to save a life. In 2003, Gov. George Ryan (R-Ill.) commuted the death sentences of all 167 death-row inmates and pardoned four men. He did so because he believed that the state's capital punishment system could no longer be trusted given the numerous exonerations and the documented cases of law enforcement misconduct.
Clemency can make things right when the complicated and convoluted procedures of the judicial system prevent justice from being done because, for example, a death-row inmate has missed a deadline. It can also make things right when a death-row inmate has shown that he has reformed and deserves the mercy of a life sentence without parole.
Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.) has that chance. Dennis Skillicorn is scheduled to be executed on May 20, 2009. Skillicorn (left) does not dispute that when he was younger he committed murders and was a thief. While he was addicted to drugs; he did horrific things. (Update, 5/1/09: Although he was convicted of an earlier murder and plead guilty to the Arizona murders, Skillicorn claims that he was not the triggerman in his first conviction and Nicklasson also confessed to being the triggerman in the Arizona murders.)
Dennis Skillicorn is never going to be released from prison. In addition to his death sentence in Missouri, he has life sentences to serve in Arizona. Interviews he has given indicate he is remorseful for his crimes and that he understands that he has to be punished for his actions. The issue is whether he should die for them.
This is where clemency comes in and Dennis Skillicorn has many arguments for clemency.