Saturday, April 27, 2013

Iowa: Conditional Commutation of Sentence

The DesMoines Register reports Governor Branstad has conditionally commuted the life sentence of 67-year old Rasberry Williams, who shot and killed another man almost four decades ago. Williams, who turned himself in after the shooting, has long maintained that the killing was done in self-defense. The commutation does not release Williams from prison, however. It merely makes him eligible for parole. Prison official say Williams' record "has been extraordinary" and that he has "had a positive impact on the lives of both inmates and Department of Corrections’ staff,”

The Iowa Board of Parole recommended Williams for commutation, but now must decide whether or not to actually release him. Branstad suggested several conditions for releasing Williams, including that he not use drugs or alcohol or gamble and that he not have contact with the Givhan family.

It is also reported that "the state’s three most recent governors have granted commutations to inmates sentenced to death or life behind bars fewer than a dozen times in the past 30 years" although the population of inmates serving life in Iowa prisons without parole "has risen dramatically — from 162 inmates in 1983 to more than 600 today."

Among other things, an official letter issued by the Governor said:
... The Iowa Constitution assigns the commutation power to the Governor of Iowa. This is a responsibility I take very seriously. I consider many elements when considering a commutation request, including: the impact on the victims, the safety of Iowans, the inmate’s rehabilitation and behavior while incarcerated, among other factors. I do not consider a commutation to be a retrial of guilt or innocence because I respect the verdict of a jury and the judicial process.
...  Mr. Williams’ record while incarcerated has been extraordinary. He has made the most of his life and has had a positive impact on the lives of both inmates and Department of Corrections’ staff. On December 8, 1979, inmate George Goff took over a cell house at Iowa State Penitentiary and held Correctional Officers hostage at knife point. Several inmates serving life sentences, including Rasberry Williams, came to assist the officers held hostage. Mr. Williams was one of the individuals who talked inmate Goff into putting down his knife. Other inmates then walked Mr. Goff to the Warden’s office to turn him in. No one was injured during this hostage situation and Mr. Williams can be credited with contributing to this positive outcome.
... At the March 27, 2013 public hearing, multiple former inmates testified regarding the positive impact Williams had on their lives. The witnesses stated Mr. Williams mentored them, encouraged them to complete their education, and always urged them to obey the law so they would never return to prison and could live meaningful and fulfilling lives.
... Based on the information provided by current and past inmates and the Department of Corrections’ staff, Mr. Williams’ behavior and improvement have been extraordinary.After carefully reviewing the parole board’s February 1, 2013 unanimous favorable recommendation, the parole board’s August 29, 2005 unanimous favorable recommendation, Warden John Ault’s April 2, 2009 favorable recommendation, Warden Fayram’s October 19, 2012 letter, Larry Moline – Iowa State Penitentiary’s Correctional Security Manager’s favorable recommendation, trial judge Roger Peterson’s October 7, 2000 favorable recommendation, Warden Ken Burger’s May 11, 2005 favorable recommendation, prosecuting attorney David J. Dutton’s favorable recommendation, interview my staff conducted with Mr. Williams, the public hearing conducted by the Parole Board on March 27, 2013 in Waterloo, letters of support by the community, letters of support and testimony from former inmates, and testimony from the victims, I granted Mr. Williams’ commutation request and commuted his sentence from life without possibility of parole to life with possibility of parole in the attached commutation certificate.
... I do recognize Mr. Williams drastically changed his life while incarcerated and even contributed to saving the lives of Correctional Officers. Additionally, Mr. Williams has served thirty-eight years in prison starting on April 26, 1975. He possesses an exemplary disciplinary record and has taken significant steps to improve his condition and address the mistakes he made in his life.
... I expect Mr. Williams to participate in any additional type of programming deemed appropriate by the Department of Corrections and Parole Board before serious consideration is given for work-release or parole.I encourage the Board to consider the conditions stated below when reviewing Mr. Williams for release: [Drug use is illegal and gives rise to recidivism, Mr. Williams should maintain employment or participate in community service projects, obey all laws, no possession of weapons, Mr. Williams should not participate in gambling, Mr. Williams should not have contact with the victim’s family or any registered victims, Mr. Williams should maintain contact with the Department of Corrections, Mr. Williams should be released into a community that will help encourage his success, I expect for Mr. Williams to positively contribute to society if he is released for work-release or parole].
Sincerely, Terry E. Branstad 

See full story here.

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