Former Texas Governor Mark White and former FBI Director William Sessions have petitioned the State of Texas to grant clemency to death row inmate Max Soffar because of the likelihood his federal appeal will not be decided before he succumbs to aggressive liver cancer.
One of Texas’ longest-serving death row prisoners, Max Soffar has been on death row for more than 33 years for a 1980 robbery at a Houston bowling alley where three people were shot and killed and a fourth badly injured.
Prosecutors had no forensic evidence or eyewitness to tie Mr. Soffar to the crime, so they relied on confessions obtained from Mr. Soffar, a mentally impaired, drug-addicted 24-year-old, after three days of questioning with no lawyer present. He later recanted.
On appeal, a federal judge criticized the state’s case as thin on evidence and dependent on Mr. Soffar’s unreliable confession. His conviction and sentence were overturned, but the state obtained a second guilty verdict and death sentence in 2006 after jurors were not allowed to hear evidence about an alternative suspect or about how police can extract false confessions.
He currently has another appeal pending in federal court but his lawyers said “[t]he reality is that the federal court process will likely not be completed before Mr. Soffar dies.”
Now 58 years old, Mr. Soffar is suffering from inoperable liver cancer. Doctors discovered the tumor in June and told him it could be fatal within months. The Constitution Project has filed a clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, in which Governor White and Mr. Sessions ask for compassionate relief so Mr. Soffar can die at home.
The Dallas Morning News editorial board wrote that the clemency request, though not likely to be granted, “serves a righteous purpose” because it exposes another Texas capital case where “the facts consist of many hazy shades of gray.”