Saturday, September 20, 2003


Governor postpones execution of Workman for four months

The highlights...

Gov. Phil Bredesen postponed the execution of Philip Workman, who was scheduled to die next week for killing a Memphis police officer more than two decades ago. The governor said he was delaying the Sept. 24 execution until January at the recommendation of Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers , who said a federal criminal investigation relating to the case is under way. Workman, 50, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting of Memphis police Lt. Ronald Oliver during the robbery of a restaurant. "So long as there are outstanding issues that may be related to this case, the only proper thing to do is to wait until those questions have been answered," the governor said. "I am a supporter of the death penalty, but committed that it be carried out in a judicious manner."

The postponement is until Jan. 15, at which time Summers could ask for a new execution date. Summers said the investigation does not directly affect the facts of the case against Workman, nor the validity of his conviction. "At the risk of compromising the investigation, I cannot at this time be specific with regard to the nature and subject of it," Summers said. Workman has twice been placed on death watch at Riverbend , but was spared both times pending further court review of his case. Public defenders Paul Bottei and Christopher Minton contend the state's eyewitness at the 1982 murder trial, Harold Davis, has recanted his original testimony that he saw Workman shoot Oliver. They also claim Davis was manipulated by the state to testify against Workman and that prosecutors relied on false testimony concerning how a bullet was found at the scene of the crime. Prosecutors say Workman fired his gun until it would not fire anymore, and that the fatal shot to Oliver could not have come from a policeman's weapon. Workman's attorneys believe ballistics evidence shows that a police bullet, not one of Workman's, killed Oliver during the shootout. Five jurors who were on the panel that convicted Workman and sentenced him to death now say they would not have given him the death penalty, and possibly not have convicted him, if they had seen all the evidence unearthed by his attorneys.

Later in the day, Workman's attorneys were expected to argue in U.S. District Court in Memphis for a stay of execution, saying his death sentence was based on perjured testimony. The governor's announcement came several weeks after Workman's attorneys withdrew their request to Bredesen for clemency. They disagreed with his decision to have the state Board of Probation and Parole review the case, saying the composition of the board had not changed since it voted unanimously two years ago against recommending clemency. Bredesen said at the time he planned to review the case, despite the withdrawal.