INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Gov. Joe Kernan spared a death row inmate’s life Friday just days before he was to die by injection, saying it would be unfair to execute him when a mentally retarded accomplice got a life sentence.

The decision followed a unanimous recommendation by the state parole board, which said there were also questions about Darnell Williams’ guilt.

It was first time in 48 years that an Indiana governor granted clemency in a capital case.

Williams and Gregory Rouster were both condemned for the 1986 murders of Rouster’s former foster parents, John and Henrietta Rease. But a court ruled that Rouster was retarded and ineligible for the death penalty.

The governor said Rouster was more culpable for the crime. The governor commuted his sentence to life in prison without parole.

“Those who bear the most responsibility for a crime should pay the highest penalty,” Kernan said. “Because Rouster cannot be executed for the crime, it is unjust for Williams to be executed.”

Williams had been scheduled to die July 9.

Among those who urged clemency were a juror who said he convicted an innocent man and the prosecutor who tried the case. One witness has recanted testimony that implicated Williams, and a new round of DNA testing was inconclusive.

“Given the doubts about the propriety of Williams’ conviction and sentence, this action was appropriate,” said his attorney, Juliet Yackel.

Williams was days away from execution last summer when then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon granted a stay for DNA testing of blood spots found on a pair of Williams’ shorts.

The tests found that one of the blood spots did not come from either victim. The tests on the other spot were inconclusive.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled last month that the tests did not eliminate Williams as a possible killer, and said other evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.

But Williams’ attorneys said six of the jurors in his case now believe Williams should not be executed.

In an interview with the parole board last week, Williams said he accompanied Rouster to the Reases’ house but had no idea what Rouster had planned. Williams said that after smoking marijuana and drinking some beer and liquor, he blacked out.

The Indiana attorney general’s office had no comment on the governor’s decision.

The attorney general’s office made no recommendation on whether clemency should be granted on grounds of mercy. But a lawyer for the office argued there were no legal reasons to doubt Williams’ conviction and death sentence.

“He was a major participant with a clear, reckless disregard for the life of the Reases,” Gary Secrest said Monday. “What is served by this execution? Justice is served by this execution.”


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