Death Penalty Information Center reports:
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has granted clemency to death-row prisoner Jimmy Meders (pictured above). One day after his January 15, 2020 clemency hearing, and just six hours before his scheduled execution, the Board announced it had commuted Meders’ death sentence to a sentence of life without possibility of parole.
The Board’s commutation order was influenced in large part by affidavits submitted by every living member of the jury from Meders’ 1989 supporting his clemency petition. The Board listed “the jury’s explicit desire during deliberations to impose a life without parole sentence which was legally unavailable at the time, and every living, able juror’s continued support for such a sentence” among the factors it considered in reaching its decision. It also cited the circumstances of the offense, Meders’ lack of any other criminal history and his near spotless prison record.
Twenty minutes into its penalty-phase deliberations in Meders’ trial, the jury sent a note to the court asking whether they could sentence him to life without parole. At the time, Georgia did not authorize life without parole as a sentencing option, and the judge told them they could not condition a life verdict on the unavailability of parole. Four years later, the Georgia legislature changed the law make capital murder punishable by life without parole or death.
Meders’ application for clemency also stressed the disproportionality of capital punishment for the crime Meders was convicted of committing and continuing doubts about his role in the murder. Meders was sentenced to death for the shooting death of a store clerk during a convenience store robbery. He had unsuccessfully sought DNA testing that he said would show that the prosecution’s key witness — who was not charged in the murder — was the actual shooter. He also argued that the murder would not be considered a capital case today, citing evidence that, in the past eight years, no prosecutor had sought the death penalty for a robbery/murder involving only one victim and no jury had voted for death in such a case in more than a decade.
The affidavits submitted by Meders’ jurors made clear that their sentencing decision hinged on whether or not parole would be possible if they imposed a life sentence. According to the affidavit of the jury foreperson, the jurors did not want Meders to face execution, “[b]ut that was the only option if we wanted to make sure he didn’t get out.” Another juror wrote that “would not have voted for a death sentence” if there had been assurances that Meders could not have been released.
Meders was represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights in his clemency application and in his efforts to obtain DNA testing. Shortly after the decision, the Southern Center issued a statement from Michael Admirand, one of Meders’ lawyers, praising the Board’s “critically important role in showing mercy in these rare circumstances.” The statement said: “We are deeply grateful for the Board’s decision to commute Jimmy Meders’s death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. … By taking this action, this parole board has made real the intent of the jury to sentence Jimmy to life without parole, and not death.”
Meders is the 10th death-row prisoner granted clemency in Georgia and the 291st in the U.S. since 1976. It was the first since the state legislature enacted a new law in 2015 requiring the board to provide an explanation of its reasons when it commutes a death sentence.