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USA (Kentucky): Death penalty / legal concern: Harold McQueen

, Index number: AMR 51/033/1997

Harold McQueen, white, is scheduled to be executed on 1 July 1997 in what would be the first execution in Kentucky since 1962. He was sentenced to death for murder in 1981, but there is concern that he was not adequately represented in court, and that no court has considered the mitigating evidence that he suffers from brain damage.

EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 51/33/97
EXTRA 87/97 Death Penalty / Legal concern 13 June 1997
Harold McQueen is scheduled to be executed on 1 July 1997 in what would be
the first execution in Kentucky for 35 years.
McQueen, white, was sentenced to death for the murder of Becky O’Hearn in 1981.
He was tried along with his half-brother and co-defendant Keith Burnell for
robbery-murder. Burnell’s father paid for a private attorney to represent his
son, while McQueen was represented by a court-appointed lawyer. The maximum
payment allowed for court-appointed lawyers in 1980 was $1,000 - an insufficient
figure to allow an attorney to conduct adequate preparations for trial. During
the trial, Burnell’s attorney continually implicated McQueen as the actual
murderer of O’Hearn. McQueen’s attorney failed to request a separate trial
even though Burnell’s attorney had made it clear during pre-trial motions that
he planned to blame the murder on McQueen. Burnell was sentenced to 20 years’
imprisonment and was paroled in 1988.
McQueen’s attorney also failed to adequately present mitigating evidence during
the penalty phase of the trial (a post-conviction hearing where jury members
have to decide between a sentence of death or imprisonment based on aggravating
and mitigating factors presented by the prosecution and defence). McQueen’s
trial attorney testified in an appeal court hearing in 1984 that he did not
talk to McQueen’s family before trial because they had a bad reputation in
the community. The jury which sentenced McQueen to death was therefore unaware
that he had been severely neglected as a child and started abusing alcohol
when he was 10 years old. At the time of the crime, McQueen was addicted to
heroin and other illegal drugs.
A neuropsychologist found that McQueen suffered frontal lobe brain damage due
to long term drug abuse, and a psychopharmacologist found that McQueen could
not have formed the intent to commit murder at the time of the crime. Neither
of these experts testified at the penalty phrase of the trial, despite their
findings being recognised as mitigating factors in death penalty cases.
No court has considered the evidence that McQueen suffered from brain damage
and did not have the ability, due to intoxication, to form criminal intent
at the time of the crime. The US Supreme Court has ruled that these factors
must be considered as mitigating factors by the jury if presented by the defence.
Despite the appeal courts’ failure to adequately examine these issues,
Kentucky’s Governor, Paul Patton, stated that the courts had thoroughly reviewed
McQueen’s conviction and death sentence when he announced that he had signed
the death warrant.
McQueen has been a “model” prisoner during his 16 years on death row. He has
taken part in a program designed to stop juvenile offenders re-offending by
talking to them about his own experience and has worked as a janitor in the
prison. The unit administrator for the death row described McQueen’s custody
score (inmates obtain points for rule violations) as “so low he would have
been gone [been transferred to a lesser security prison] years ago for good
conduct” were he not under sentence of death. Other prison officials have signed
statements confirming their belief that McQueen would not be a danger to the
general prison population were he to be transferred from death row.
If executed, McQueen would become the first prisoner executed in Kentucky since
the resumption of executions in the USA in 1977. The last prisoner executed
in the state was Kelly Moss in 1962. As of 31 July 1996, there were 28 prisoners
under sentence of death in Kentucky. The method of execution is electrocution.
The governor has sole authority to commute a death sentence to life imprisonment
without parole.
According to information received by Amnesty International, Governor Patton
has stated twice in the last 10 days that he will not grant clemency to any
death row prisoner. The power to grant executive clemency was long been
recognised as a vital part of the judicial process in death penalty cases,
for example, the US Supreme Court, in its ruling in Herrera v. Collins, wrote
“Clemency is deeply rooted in our Anglo-American tradition of law, and is the
historic remedy for preventing miscarriages of justice where judicial process
has failed.”
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/airmail
letters in English or your own language:
- expressing deep concern that Harold McQueen is scheduled to be executed in
Kentucky on 1 July 1997;
- urging Governor Patton to reconsider his stated unwillingness to even consider
clemency for any death row inmates, and to grant clemency to Harold McQueen
by commuting his death sentence;
- expressing concern that the jury which sentenced McQueen to death was unaware
of relevant mitigating factors;
- pointing out that Harold McQueen has an exemplary prison record;
- expressing sympathy for the victims of violent crimes and their families;
- stating that the resumption of executions in Kentucky would be a retrograde
step running against international trends.
The Honourable Paul Patton
Governor of Kentucky
The Capitol
700 Capitol Ave.
Frankfort, KY 40601, USA
Fax: +1 502 564 2735; 2517
Telephone: +1 502 564 2611
Telegrams: Governor Patton, Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
Salutation: Dear Governor
The Letters Editor
525 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
Fax: +1 502 582 4075
and to diplomatic representatives of USA accredited to your country.

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