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