Hours before Jimmy Meders, 58, was scheduled to be executed yesterday, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment without parole.
Mr. Meders was sentenced to death in 1989, four years before Georgia added life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option in capital cases. Mr. Meders had a distinguished career in the National Guard and no criminal history, when he and two other men entered a convenience store in 1987. The clerk was fatally shot and money was taken from the cash register. Despite conflicting evidence about who shot the clerk, AP reports, Mr. Meders was the only one charged in the robbery and murder.
Mr. Meders’s jury wanted to return a verdict of life without parole, but that option was not available. As the Southern Center for Human Rights wrote in his clemency application, the jury even asked the trial judge if they could recommend life without parole.
Every living juror who remembers the trial confirmed in sworn statements that the jury would have returned a verdict of life without parole if that option had been available. As one of the jurors explained, “Our options were basically a chance to set him free or the death sentence, so I went with the death sentence.” And all of them urged the Board to grant clemency and commute Mr. Meders’s sentence to life without parole.
During his 30 years on Georgia’s death row, Mr. Meders received only a single disciplinary infraction—a rare and remarkable achievement. Because of his excellent behavior, deep remorse, and personal growth, former corrections staff also urged the Board to commute his sentence, writing that “he would continue to contribute” in prison by helping to “keep a cell block calm and running smoothly through his quiet, reflective example his consistently steady behavior.”
The commutation order notes that the board considered Mr. Meder’s “lack of a criminal record prior to committing this offense, his commission of only one minor infraction in over 30 years on death row, the jury’s explicit desire during deliberations to impose a life without parole sentence which was legally unavailable at the time, and every living, able juror’s continued support for such a sentence” in granting clemency.
Mr. Meders is the first person to receive clemency in Georgia since 2014 and just the 10th since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
“The board’s critically important role in showing mercy in these rare circumstances cannot be overstated,” the Southern Center for Human Rights said in a statement yesterday. “By taking this action, this parole board has made real the intent of the jury to sentence Jimmy to life without parole, and not death.”