USA: PRESIDENT OBAMA COMMUTES TWO DEATH SENTENCES
January 17, 2017: President Barack Obama commuted the death sentences of Abelardo Arboleda Ortiz, a federal death row prisoner, and Dwight Loving, a military death row prisoner.
The two men were among 209 commutations and 64 pardons announced by the White House on the 17th.
Ortiz and two others had been convicted for the murder on November 26, 1998 of a drug dealer, Julian Colon. In May 2000, a federal jury in Kansas City, recommended a death sentence for Ortiz. The other men did not receive death sentences. All the defendants were Colombian citizens.
Ortiz maintained that officers who questioned him never told him he had a right to an attorney or a right to remain silent. His attorneys said he never learned to read or write in any language. Ortiz's lawyers sought clemency from the President on the grounds that Ortiz was intellectually disabled, his right to consular notification under the Vienna Convention had been violated, he did not himself commit the murder and was not in the room when it occurred, and he had been denied effective assistance of counsel at trial.
Ortiz's lawyers said they were "incredibly grateful" to President Obama for the commutation.
In a statement, Amy Gershenfeld Donnella said, "Mr. Arboleda Ortizâs case highlights several of the glaring problems that plague the federal system no less than state systems: dreadful lawyering by defense counsel; disproportionate sentencing even among co-defendants; significant racial, economic and geographic disparities in the choice of those who will be tried capitally; and procedural constraints that make it virtually impossible to correct a conviction or sentence imposed, even in violation of the Constitution, when new evidence comes to light." His case, she said, "epitomizes the broken federal death penalty system."
Although federal law and the U.S. Constitution both prohibit using the death penalty against persons who are intellectually disabled, Ortiz's trial lawyer never investigated his intellectual disability, Donnella said. As a result, the jurors made their decision on life or death "in a complete vaccuum" and "an intellectually disabled person of color with an IQ of 54 who was never able to learn to read, write, or do simple arithmetic, and could not even tie his shoes until he was ten years old" was sentenced to die.
Dwight J. Loving, 49, Black, was one of six military personnel on death row until todayâs commutation17. Loving, a private in the United States Army, was sentenced to death on April 3, 1989 by the U.S. Army Court Martial. On the night of December 11, 1988, Loving committed two armed robberies of convenience stores, netting less than $100. He then decided to rob some cab drivers.
On December 12, during the course of those robberies, Loving murdered two taxicab drivers and attempted to murder a third. He was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas at the time of the murders. Loving's attorneys argued for clemency on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, racial and gender bias in the selection of members of his court-martial, and Supreme Court rulings that called into question the constitutionality of the process by which the military imposes the death penalty.
In Loving's clemency petition, his lawyers state, "Issues of command influence, racial discrimination, and improper panel voting procedures â which were ignored by the courts based on technical legal evidentiary rules â will forever overshadow Lovingâs death sentence.
Both Ortiz and Loving will now serve sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Source: The Washington Post, HoC, 17/01/2017)