LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas death-row inmate Frank Williams Jr. should be spared from execution because of mental disabilities and issues surrounding his 1992 murder conviction, his lawyers argue in a new clemency request.
In a filing to the state's Parole Board, federal public defenders describe Williams as a slow learner whose low IQ caused classmates, friends and even his family to mock him as he grew up poor in southwestern Arkansas. Lawyers also question a previous assault conviction that allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty against him for the killing of Bradley farmer Clyde Spence, as well as the prosecutors' motives.
"It is for these reasons that Mr. Williams now stands before this board and asks it to do what the courts have refused to do," the request reads. "Look at the compelling evidence of his disability, and then commute his sentence of death in order to prevent the terrible unfairness and injustice of executing a mentally retarded man because of bad luck and the failings of his attorneys."
The 49-page clemency request, dated July 1, does not challenge Williams' guilt for Spence's murder.
Williams, 41, faces a Sept. 9 execution date set by Gov. Mike Beebe. If it is carried out, Williams would be the first inmate put to death in Arkansas since 2005 and a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year upholding lethal injection.
The state Parole Board will hold hearings Aug. 4 on Williams' request.
The clemency request claims California psychologist Ricardo Weinstein, who has worked as a defense expert in other death-penalty cases, diagnosed Williams as having mental disabilities after reviewing records and interviewing Williams' family. The request says another psychologist reviewed Weinstein's work and agreed with it.
Williams' lawyers claim he always struggled in classes and was held back three times before dropping out as a sophomore in high school. He worked on farms, became familiar with driving that equipment, but was apprehensive behind the wheel of a car anywhere outside of country roads, his lawyers said.
Williams was previously convicted of threatening a sheriff's deputy with a butcher knife - a charge that helped prosecutors seek the death penalty against him. In their clemency request, Williams' lawyers claim he never pointed the weapon at the deputy and had no intention to injure or kill him. Because of that, lawyers said he should have never been charged.
Lawyers said Williams at one time moved into an old trailer on Spence's property, where he worked as a farmhand. Spence also helped get Williams out of prison and into a work-release program after his assault conviction.
On Oct. 7, 1992, Spence fired Williams from his job after he broke a tractor. Just before midnight, Williams returned and shot Spence with a .25-caliber pistol. Police later arrested Williams and found the pistol in his pocket.
Gabe Holmstrom, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, said officials have not seen Williams' clemency application and had no comment.
In their clemency request, Williams' lawyers also note that of five current death-penalty inmates from that judicial district, all were black men convicted of killing white victims. White defendants, including a man who doused three people in gasoline and set them on fire over $20, did not receive the death penalty, lawyers said.
"That evidence shows a strong possibility that if Mr. Williams were white or the victim had been black, the death penalty would not have been sought," his lawyers wrote.
Of the 39 men on Arkansas' death row, 24 are black. Blacks make up only 15 percent of the state's 2.8 million residents.