Campaigning for Clemency
by Peter Trauernicht
AFTER HER EFFORTS to present mitigating factors finally succeeded, Ann Fort ’91, partner with Sutherland in Atlanta, Ga., recently concluded a 12-year effort to save the life of Samuel David Crowe. Fort’s campaign ultimately led to clemency and a reduced sentence of life without parole for Crowe, just two hours before his scheduled execution for the murder of a coworker in 1988.
Fort’s legal endeavors began with two state habeas petitions in 1996 and 2002, both of which were unsuccessful. In 2003, she filed cert with the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was denied. Then, in 2006, Fort and attorneys from the Federal Defender Office convinced a U.S. District Court to grant in part a motion for appealability. Fort then followed the case to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied relief. Crowe filed cert with the Supreme Court, but it was again denied in April of 2008. Early this May, Fort learned that the state planned to execute Crowe on May 22.
Fort then began a campaign outside of the legal system to try and save Crowe’s life. After informing the Board of Pardons and Paroles that she and her team were going to seek clemency, Fort set to work. Her team first sent the board letters of support from 50 people pleading for Crowe’s life. They also submitted an 11-page excerpt from prison records that detailed the extent to which Crowe had been a positive influence in prison, cooperating with guards and improving literacy among his fellow prisoners. Fort’s team also submitted some 2,000 post cards with pictures of Crowe throughout his life and a signature from the senders with text explaining why he should be granted clemency. Finally, the team prepared a 115-page brief with exhibits on Crowe’s behalf, something the prosecution was surprised to learn Fort had done.
Fort argued before the board on the morning of Crowe’s scheduled execution. She focused on Crowe’s remorse and his attempts to rehabilitate. She detailed the extent to which guards in prison relied on his positive and peace keeping influence on other inmates, and how he had been active in programs to deter drug use among youth in his former community. She argued that granting clemency would not violate efforts to uphold the legal system, highlighting that Crowe’s counsel during his trial had failed to introduce the mitigating factors of his drug use and questionable mental health.
Later that day, Fort struggled heavy-hearted through a meal with several of Crowe’s friends just a few hours before Crowe’s scheduled execution. She received a call from a representative of the Board of Paroles and Pardons, informing her that they had voted to commute the death sentence to life without parole. Her efforts of nearly 12 years had finally come to fruition, saving the life of a man in the face of daunting odds — Crowe’s request was only the third out of 24 such requests to have been granted since 1995.