On January 16, 2008, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge William Mazzola threw out the death sentence of LDF client, Raymond Whitney. Mr. Whitney, an African-American man, had been on Pennsylvania’s death row for twenty-six years. Not only was Mr. Whitney inadequately represented at trial, on appeal, and in his first post-conviction proceedings, he was also mentally retarded and extremely mentally ill.
Judge Mazzola’s Order came after years of litigation, several days of testimony, and the submission of an extensive written record. In the written record, LDF relied on the United States Supreme Court’s 2002 decision declaring capital punishment for the mentally retarded to be cruel and unusual punishment, to challenge Mr. Whitney’s death sentence.
During the course of the evidentiary hearing, which LDF litigated along with co-counsel from the Federal Court Division of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, LDF presented the testimony of an expert psychologist and several of Mr. Whitney’s friends and family members, who offered detailed accounts of his impaired functioning, as well as childhood abuse and neglect. LDF’s expert, Dr. Claire Barabash, explained how her own examination of Mr. Whitney along with her review of his school records, hospital records, mental health evaluations, and correctional records, made clear that Mr. Whitney has suffered from mental retardation throughout his life.
After declaring the evidence of mental retardation presented by LDF to be “overwhelming,” the Court vacated Mr. Whitney’s death sentence, resentencing him to life without the possibility of parole instead.