Jimmy Meders was scheduled to die by lethal injection today, but the Georgia parole board has granted him clemency.
Meders was convicted and sentenced to death in 1989 for the murder of Don Anderson. Meders fatally shot Anderson, a Jiffy Store clerk, during a robbery.
According to his clemency application, Meders is one of the last people in the state to be tried before the legislature authorized life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. Jurors in Meders' case stated that they would have chosen life without parole had it been available at the time of his trial. The jurors even asked the trial judge if they could choose such a sentence. They were informed that the sentence was not available. So while they did not believe Meders' crime was aggravated enough to warrant the death penalty, they made a choice based on limited options.
"Did I want the man to die? No, not really. But that was the only option if we wanted to make sure he didn't get out. If life without parole had been available, I believe that's the option we would have gone for," the head juror explained in an affidavit. All six remaining jurors confirmed they'd authorize a sentence of life without confirmed.
Meders' case is a good example of why life without parole has since been authorized in the state. The sentence provides jurors with a sort of middle ground for criminals who are not, as the clemency application states, the "worst of the worst."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reported that Meders' sentence is disproportionate by today's criminal justice standards. Meders did not have a criminal history prior to his crime, making him one of the few people on death row without previous convictions. The death penalty is typically reserved for habitual or heinous offenders.
The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole announced on Thursday that it would commute Meders' sentence to life in prison.
CLEMENCY GRANTED FOR OUR CLIENT JIMMY MEDERS! pic.twitter.com/ZIrOzie7dl
— Southern Center for Human Rights (@southerncenter) January 16, 2020
The board cited the jurors; "explicit desire" to impose the unavailable sentence as part of the reason behind its decision.
"We are deeply grateful for the Board's decision to commute Jimmy Meders's death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The board's critically important role in showing mercy in these rare circumstances cannot be overstated. By taking this action, this parole board has made real the intent of the jury to sentence Jimmy to life without parole, and not death," Michael Admirand of the Southern Center for Human Rights, Meders' counsel, said in a statement provided to Reason.