VIRGINIA (USA). ATKINS' DEATH SENTENCE COMMUTED TO LIFE
January 17, 2008: The death sentence for Daryl Atkins was commuted to life in prison after York-Poquoson Circuit Judge Prentis Smiley found that prosecutors had failed to turn over potential favorable evidence to his lawyers during his 1998 murder trial.
Atkins, togheter with co-defendant William Jones were charged in the Aug. 16, 1996, killing ofÂ Eric Nesbitt, 21.
Jones, then 26, testified against Atkins at trial, saying Atkins, then 18, fired the shots that killed Nesbitt, and a jury convicted Atkins of capital murder. Jones later pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
Atkins was sentenced to death despite evidence offered by the defense that he was mentally retarded, with an IQ of 69.
His death sentenced was first overturned in Jan. 1999 because of tecnicalities, but then again confirmed in Aug. 1999. His appeal went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled on June 20, 2002 (see) that it's unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. It is the famous â€śAtkins v. Virginiaâ€ť case. A new jury decided in 2003 that Atkins wasn't retarded and upheld the death sentence, but that verdict was also overturned because of errors made during the trial.
In Aug 2005 a new York County jury found Atkins to be not mentally retarded and that he could be executed. In June 2006 the state Supreme Court overturned that verdict, citing more trial errors. A new trial on Atkins' retardation was ordered for Apr. 2008, when allegations surfaced that prosecutors withheld evidence during the original 1998 trial.
Last year, Leslie Smith, one of Jones' attorneys, came forward with allegations that prosecutor Cathy E. Krinick coaxed Jones to change aspects of his story during an August 1997 interview at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail.
Smith testified at an earlier hearing in December that Krinick turned off a tape recorder during the interview with Jones after his statements didn't match up with the physical evidence of the shooting. While the tape was off, he said, Krinick led Jones back through the events of that night, coaching him on what to say. When the recorder was turned back on, Jones told a different version of his story.
According to evidence presented Thursday and during the December hearing, the recorder was off for a total of 16 minutes during the two-hour interview. (Sources: Daily Press, 17/01/2008)