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USA (Tennessee): Death penalty / Legal concern: Philip Ray Workman

, Index number: AMR 51/009/2000

Philip Workman is scheduled to be executed in Tennessee on 6 April 2000. There are serious doubts about whether he is guilty of the crime for which he has been sentenced to die.

PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/09/00
UA 12/00 Death penalty / Legal concern 19 January 2000
USA (Tennessee)Philip Ray Workman, white, aged 45
Philip Workman is scheduled to be executed in Tennessee on 6 April 2000. There
are serious doubts about whether he is guilty of the crime for which he has
been sentenced to die. Tennessee has not carried out an execution since 1960.
Workman was convicted of the first-degree murder of a police officer, Lieutenant
Ronald Oliver, during an after-hours robbery of a Wendy’s fast food restaurant
in Memphis, Tennessee, on 5 August 1981. Ronald Oliver and two other officers,
Aubrey Stoddard and Steven Parker, were the first to arrive at the scene. As
Workman fled, shots were fired and Lt Oliver was killed by a single bullet.
Stoddard was hit in the right arm.
At the 1982 trial Workman testified that he fell as he ran across the car park,
attempted to surrender, and was struck on the head by an officer. Workman stated
that he fired his gun twice, once in the air, and then at a person who had
fired at him. Officers Stoddard and Parker testified that they had not fired
their weapons, but that they had not seen Workman shoot Oliver. The prosecution
presented testimony from an alleged eyewitness, Harold Davis, who stated that
he had parked his car in the restaurant car park and was three metres away
when he saw Workman shoot Oliver. He said that he stayed as “a bunch” of police
officers arrived. The defence lawyers accepted the police version, conducted
no forensic or ballistics analysis and did not investigate Davis. At the
sentencing phase of the trial, they presented no mitigating evidence, for
example of the physical abuse Workman had suffered as a child, and his drug
addiction as an adult.
While Workman has never denied responsibility for creating the situation in
which Oliver was killed, evidence has emerged since trial that discredits the
testimony of Stoddard, Parker and Davis, and raises the possibility that the
fatal shot may have been fired by a fellow police officer rather than by Workman.
This evidence has never been heard in open court:
1. Harold Davis has retracted his testimony. In November 1999, he stated that
police coerced him, under threat of physical harm, to lie about what he had
seen. He now states that he was not in the car park at the time of the shooting,
a claim backed up by a former girlfriend. Other evidence supports Davis’s
recantation: no reporters, police or members of the public who were witnesses
recalled seeing Davis or his car, which was allegedly in the middle of an
otherwise vacant car park.
2. A witness, a member of the public, who did not testify at the trial due
to illness, signed a statement in 1995 that he had a clear view of the car
park and that he had not seen Davis, but had seen Officer Parker fire his shotgun
at Workman. Hospital records indicate that Workman was treated for a shotgun
wound after capture. The jury were told that the only shots fired at the scene
came from Workman’s and Oliver’s revolvers. Stoddard’s and Parker’s revolvers
were not examined in the investigation of the crime.
3. Two ballistics experts have stated that the fatal bullet could not have
come from Workman’s gun. They state that the type of bullets he was using expand
on entering a human body, and, if they exit, leave a bigger exit wound than
the entry wound. The exit wound on Lt Oliver was half the size of the entry
wound. In 1998, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said that there was “no
doubt” that the fatal bullet could not have come from Workman’s gun if it had
left Oliver’s body whole. Although all the evidence, uncontested, indicates
that the bullet did exit whole, the Court nonetheless speculated that the bullet
may have fragmented.
Setting Workman’s execution date, the state Supreme Court noted that it was
powerless to consider the new evidence. Two of the judges expressed concern
about the case. Justice Birch said that due to “extenuating circumstances”,
the Governor should commute Workman’s sentence. Justice Drowata, suggesting
that Workman’s death sentence is disproportionate, said: “...the circumstances
of this case are by no means as egregious as most of the death penalty cases
I have reviewed [and] are less egregious than many of the life sentences I
have reviewed... The date set for execution... affords the Governor sufficient
time to carefully consider any executive clemency application that may be
Workman’s appeal lawyers have recently obtained affidavits from five of the
eight trial jurors who say that they would not have voted for death if they
had known of the issues discovered since trial. Lt Oliver’s daughter has given
a statement opposing the execution; his ex-wife also opposes the death sentence
being carried out.
Since 1973, 84 people have been released from US death rows after evidence
of their innocence emerged. Recurring factors contributing to wrongful
convictions include inadequate defence representation, misconduct by police
and prosecutors, and the use of unreliable testimony and physical evidence.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please telephone or send e-mail/faxes/express/airmail
letters in your own words, in English or your own language:
- expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Lieutenant Ronald Oliver,
and stating that you do not condone violent crime;
- expressing deep concern that Philip Ray Workman is scheduled for execution,
despite serious concerns about his guilt which have not been the subject of
an evidentiary hearing;
- noting expert testimony that the fatal bullet could not have come from
Workman’s gun, and witness testimony indicating that it was not only Lt Oliver’s
and Workman’s guns which were fired at the scene;
- noting that Harold Davis has recanted his eyewitness testimony, and noting
that other evidence supports his recantation;
- noting the views of Justices Drowata and Birch;
- noting that several jurors have signed affidavits that they would not have
voted for death if they had been presented with the new evidence;
- noting that 84 death row prisoners have been found to have been wrongfully
convicted in the USA since 1973;
- urging the Governor to grant clemency to Philip Workman.
The Honourable Don Sundquist
Office of the Governor
State Capitol, Nashville, TN 37243-0001, USA
Fax: +1 615 532 9711
Tel:+1 615 741 2001
E-mail: dsundquist@mail.state.tn.us
Telegrams: Governor Sundquist, Nashville, TN, USA
Salutation:Dear Governor
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.
You may write letters (no more than 250 words) to one of the following:
Letters to the Editor, The Tennessean, 1100 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203,
USA. Fax: +1 615 259 8093. E-mail: jgibson@tennessean.com
Letters to the Editor, The Commercial Appeal, Box 334, Memphis, TN 38101, USA.
Fax: +1 901 529 6445. E-mail: letters@gomemphis.com
Letters to the Editor, Knoxville News-Sentinel, PO Box 59038, Knoxville, TN
37950-9038, USA. Fax: +1 865 342 6404. E-mail: letters@knews.com
Letters to the Editor, Chattanooga Free Press, PO Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN
37401, USA. Fax: +1 423 757 6383. E-mail: kspence@timesfreepress.com
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. It is not clear when Governor Sundquist will
make his decision on clemency, but he could so at any time.

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