LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Parole Board has recommended clemency for a man it says may have been convicted of a murder he did not commit.
The board also recommended clemency for a convicted killer who was sentenced under a law that was not in effect at the time he committed the crime.
A spokeswoman for the panel said Monday it recently voted to recommend that Gov. Mike Beebe commute the sentences of Denver Wayne Mitchell Jr., 44, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Greene County in 1992, and German Woodson Williams, 59, who was convicted of first-degree murder in Pulaski County in 1993.
Mitchell was convicted in the 1990 beating death of Willard Williamson in Paragould and was sentenced to life without parole. The Parole Board recommended that Beebe commute Mitchell’s sentence to life with parole, noting on a worksheet that “this case needs to be fully investigated” and that it “may be the wrong person is incarcerated due to evidence in the file.”
Mitchell wrote in his application for clemency that he beat Williamson while drunk after Williamson made a pass at him in a camping area, but did not kill him. He claimed that two teenagers were in the area the next day and that one of them beat Williamson, who later died.
The teen who beat Williamson was the son of a former police chief, according to Mitchell. He said the teen confessed to the killing and was charged, but the charge was dropped after Mitchell’s cousin said, as part of a plea deal, that Mitchell was the killer.
Mitchell said he was submitting with his application an audio recording of a statement made by one of the teenagers stating that he witnessed the other teen beating Williamson.
Also submitted with Mitchell’s application was an affidavit by Ronda Beasley, Williamson’s daughter, stating that she believes Mitchell is innocent.
“Anyone that really goes over all the evidence has to say that Denver did not kill my father, and I think my father would want Denver released now. I think a great injustice has been done,” Beasley wrote.
Beasley said in the affidavit that her father was from California and often used a sexual phrase that she said was a common, innocuous expression in California but apparently was not common in Arkansas and may have been misinterpreted. She said both of the teenagers who encountered her father used the expression in separate interviews with police, indicating that they did contact him.
She said she asked to testify and would have explained all of this to the jury at Mitchell’s trial, but Mitchell’s lawyer had not talked to her before the trial and had not given her name to the prosecutor, so she was not allowed to testify.
Greene County Circuit Judge Cindy Thyer recommended against clemency without stating a reason.
Parole Board recommendations are open for public comment for 30 days, after which they go to the governor, who has 240 days to make a decision. Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample was asked Monday if the governor might expedite consideration of a case involving a possible wrongful conviction.
“We always reserve the right to consider any file at any point in time when we get it,” DeCample said. “Generally, the governor’s position is if there’s new evidence arises that potentially exonerates someone, that is something that should be taken up immediately in the courts.”
The Parole Board also voted to recommend that Beebe commute German Williams’ sentence from 68 years and three months to 43 years.
Williams admitted in his application for clemency that he shot the husband of his girlfriend’s aunt during an argument on April 21, 1993. But he also said prosecutors determined his criminal history score, which affected his sentencing range, under a state law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994 — after the crime was committed.
The Parole Board cited that discrepancy as its reason for recommending commutation.
Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay objected to Williams’ request without stating a reason.