PHOENIX — Five former members of the state Board of Executive Clemency say they were pressured by a top aide to Gov. Jan Brewer to deny requests for relief from those in high-profile cases.
In a signed affidavit, former Chairman Jesse Hernandez said he was called into several “come to Jesus” meetings by Scott Smith, Brewer’s chief of staff. Hernandez said Smith told him the governor does not want a repeat of two situations when the board had recommended clemency, putting her in the position of having to reject the pleas.
“I immediately understood this to mean that Governor Brewer was directing me not to recommend clemency in high-profile cases,” Hernandez wrote.
Four other former board members — three who were replaced and a fourth who, like Hernandez, later quit — made similar complaints. Some contended Brewer refused to reappoint them because they had supported earlier clemency efforts.
The filings came in a federal court lawsuit filed Thursday in a bid to stop the Oct. 9 execution of Edward Schad, convicted in the 1978 murder of Lorimer Grove of Bisbee.
Schad has exhausted all of his legal appeals. But he is scheduled to go before the five-member clemency board next week — a board his lawyers contend now has members under pressure to reject his plea.
The board’s vote is significant because Brewer can grant a reprieve only if the board recommends one.
The federal court filing seeks to block the current board from hearing the case. That, in turn, could delay the execution to give Schad a chance to make his case for clemency to what his lawyers call “a legally constituted, legally performing, conflict-free and independent board.”
“Smith’s actions on behalf of Governor Brewer have so impacted the board that it is impossible for any death-row inmate to access executive clemency while Governor Brewer holds office,” the suit says. It says that the actions “have rendered the Arizona executive clemency process a sham.”
Even if Schad wins his bid for a new board, and that board recommends clemency, Brewer remains free to ignore it.
Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder could not say whether Smith had conversations with any board members or what was said. But he said no one from the Governor’s Office ever sought to interfere with any case pending before the board.
Schad’s attorneys contend Brewer is embarrassed by rejecting some high-profile requests and has made it clear to board members, through her staff, they should not put her in that position.
Duane Belcher, the former board chairman, said Smith and Joe Sciarrotta, the governor’s chief counsel, told him the Governor’s Office was unhappy with his vote to twice recommend clemency for William Macumber after the board concluded he likely was innocent.
Marilyn Wilkens, seeking reappointment to the board, said Smith told her he was displeased that she voted to reduce the sentence imposed on Robert Flibotte, a 74-year-old first-time sex offender who had been sentenced to 90 years behind bars for possession of child pornography.
That sentence was required because of mandatory consecutive terms. Board members concluded a shorter term was appropriate.
“He was shaking his finger at me and told me in a raised voice, almost yelling at me, that I voted to let a ‘sex offender’ go,” Wilkens said in her affidavit, which she believes led to her not being reappointed.
Wilder pointed out that Hernandez resigned from his post earlier this year amid an investigation accusing him of inappropriate behavior, including giving an employee he was dating a promotion and a pay raise.
“He’s got some truth-telling issues,” Wilder said.
Wilder also said Brewer has granted clemency in cases where she thinks it is appropriate.
Records obtained by Capitol Media Services show Brewer got 22 recommendations last year, granting seven.