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Crime He was sentenced to death after a scandalous trial. Matt Bevin commuted his sentence

21:20  10 december  2019
21:20  10 december  2019 Source:   courier-journal.com

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a close up of a man: Gregory Wilson© Kentucky Department of Corrections Gregory Wilson

In one of his last official acts, now former Gov. Matt Bevin spared a man whose 1988 murder trial was described as a travesty of justice and a national embarrassment for Kentucky from the death penalty.

In commuting Gregory Wilson’s sentence to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years, Bevin wrote that Wilson was involved in a “brutal murder” but “to say his legal defense was inadequate would be the understatement of the year."

Matt Bevin wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Governor Matt Bevin took to the stage in the Archibald Ballroom of the Galt House on Tuesday night to announce that he had not yet conceded the tightly run race with opponent Andy Beshear. 11/5/19© Marty Pearl/Special to Courier Journal Governor Matt Bevin took to the stage in the Archibald Ballroom of the Galt House on Tuesday night to announce that he had not yet conceded the tightly run race with opponent Andy Beshear. 11/5/19

“Justice should be served on all sides. It was not,” Bevin said in a Friday order that made Wilson, 63, immediately eligible for parole.

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Wilson’s lawyer, retired chief Jefferson County public defender Dan Goyette, said he was gratified that “at long last, a shameful travesty of justice has finally been remedied.”

He said Bevin deserves credit for having the “courage and sense of justice” to take action that “none of his predecessors were willing to take.”

After attorneys in Northern Kentucky refused to defend Wilson for a maximum state fee that was then only $2,500, a judge in Kenton County posted a sign on his courtroom door saying “PLEASE HELP. DESPERATE.”

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Two lawyers came forward, but one had never tried a felony before and the other, William Hagedorn, who offered to serve as lead counsel for free, had no office, no law books, and on his business card, he gave out the phone number of a local tavern.

His co-counsel later said he “manifested all signs of a burned-out alcoholic.”

Hagedorn wandered in and out of the courtroom, cross-examined virtually no witnesses and presented no evidence to support a lesser penalty than death.

Years later, it was revealed that Wilson's co-defendant, Brenda Humphrey, who testified against him, was taken each day of the trial to the chambers of another judge, where they had sex.

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Asking Bevin for clemency, Goyette wrote that “from the start, the proceedings were rife with legal error, malpractice, conflicts of interest, unprofessional conduct and highly inappropriate acts by judicial officers.”

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Federal appeals court judge Boyce F. Martin Jr. wrote that over his 30 years on the bench, Wilson’s trial stood out as "one of the worst examples I have ever seen of the unfairness and abysmal lawyering that pervade capital trials.”

Wilson, who is black, was convicted of the abduction, rape, robbery and murder of Debbie Pooley, 36, an assistant restaurant manager in Newport, and sentenced to death, while Humphrey, who is white, was convicted of kidnapping and facilitation to rape and murder and was released on parole after serving a sentence of life without parole for 25 years.

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Goyette cited that racial disparity in the petition for clemency, noting that Humphrey "confessed to her sister that she, Brenda, was the one who killed the victim by slitting her throat."

Bevin noted in his commutation order the fact that the "actual admitted killer is now out of prison and his co-defendant is on death row would indicate that Mr. Wilson got the short end of the justice stick.”

Defending Wilson’s conviction and death sentence, the attorney general’s office has noted that state and federal courts have upheld both and said Wilson was not prejudiced by Humprhey having sex with another judge.

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Rejecting Wilson’s claim that his counsel was ineffective, Judge Danny Boggs wrote for a three-judge 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel that “indigent defendants have a right to counsel ... but not the right to counsel of their choice."

Former Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Donald Buring, who won the death sentence against Wilson, said in a 2010 interview that Wilson was "as deserving — if not more so — of that sentence of any individual I have ever encountered. There is no question he was the killer."

Critics argued that defense lawyers exploited Wilson’s case to argue for higher fees for counsel for the indigent in capital cases.

Buring could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday, and both of Pooley’s parents are deceased.

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Claiming Hagedorn and his co-counsel, John Foote, were incompetent, Wilson represented himself during parts of the trial. He delivered his own opening statement, for example, saying only: "I am not a lawyer, and I'm not guilty."

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Wilson’s conviction in the Pooley case was not his first. He had been released from an Ohio prison 10 months before she was raped and murdered, after serving about 13 years on two convictions for rape.

But Wilson is a changed man after 31 years in prison, according to Goyette and others who have visited him, including a minister who says Wilson converted to Catholicism and is a devout believer. One of his three regular visitors is a Louisville nun, The Courier Journal reported in 2010.

Goyette said Tuesday he has a call in to Wilson about the commutation of his sentence and was awaiting a call back.

Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; awolfson@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @adwolfson.  Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/andreww.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: He was sentenced to death after a scandalous trial. Matt Bevin commuted his sentence

Bevin says a pardoned murderer is 'a new man.' He had 30 disciplinary violations in prison .
Brett Dustin Whittaker, 36, pleaded guilty in 2011 for murdering a pastor and his wife while driving under the influence in Lincoln County.In a Dec. 6 pardon order, Bevin said "no lives are made better" by keeping Brett Dustin Whittaker, 36, incarcerated, adding that Whittaker has "utilized the past nine years in prison to transform his life spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.

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