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Commissioner Steve Mulroy assisted in a successful clemency petition, resulting in Gov. Bredesen commuting the death sentence of Michael Boyd to life imprisonment. This was the first such commutation of a Tennessee death sentence in over 40 years. The principal lawyer, local attorney Robert Hutton, had been working on the case for several years before bringing in Commissioner Mulroy to assist at the beginning of the year. Mulroy, a law professor at the University of Memphis and a former federal prosecutor, had previously assisted Mr. Hutton “pro bono” (i.e., as a volunteer) on several death penalty cases. Both in Memphis and in Nashville, Prof. Mulroy helped advocate for commutation to the local District Attorney, the State Attorney General, and the Governor’s office.
In 1984, Boyd was acquitted of intentional murder but convicted of felony murder due to an armed robbery attempt which led to a fatal struggle over a gun. Recently, local Major Crimes Judge Jim Beasley, then the prosecutor, submitted an affidavit stating that his original plea offer of 35 years was an appropriate sentence, and that he had personally seen more egregious crimes which did not yield death sentences. Gov. Bredesen commuted the death sentence largely on the basis of the inadequate legal representation Boyd received at the trial and post-conviction levels. In his several decades on Death Row, Boyd was a model prisoner, undergoing a religious conversion and getting married, among other things.
“This is significant for other Tennessee death cases,” said Commissioner Mulroy. “It underlines the issue of inadequate legal assistance for death sentence defendants, and highlights the little-used method of seeking clemency from the governor as a backup for litigation in the courts.”