Death row inmate Pinnell seeks clemency
PORTLAND — Oregon death row inmate Mark Pinnell is seeking clemency from Gov. John Kitzhaber after more than two decades in prison.
He's the first person to ask for clemency since the governor declared a moratorium on executions in November 2011, The Oregonian reported in Sunday's newspaper.
Pinnell argues he should be released because he was treated differently from his co-defendant in the 1985 murder-robbery of John Wallace Ruffner.
Pinnell was tried by a jury that convicted him of multiple aggravated murder counts, including aggravated murder by torture and was sentenced to death.
His co-defendant, Donald E. Cornell, was tried later and acquitted of all aggravated murder charges. Connell was released from prison nearly two years ago on Sept. 23, 2011, after serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He served 25 years, 11 months.
“It was the same witnesses. It was the same evidence. It was the same circumstances,” says Cornell, in a videotaped statement included as part of Pinnell's request for clemency. “The only difference was the attorneys.”
Pinnell's current federal public defender, Teresa A. Hampton, says the case is an excellent illustration of how arbitrary and inconsistent the justice system can be.
While Pinnell had a relatively inexperienced defense attorney, Cornell's attorney was the late Timothy Alexander, then a veteran with years of experience litigating capital murder cases as a prosecutor and defense counsel. He got to observe Pinnell's trial, hear the state's testimony and plan a better defense, argues Hampton, a supervising attorney in the federal public defender's office in Idaho's Capital Habeas Unit.
In August 2012, Alexander was a senior judge and the case of death row inmate Gary Haugen. At that time, Pinnell's federal public defenders reached out to Alexander while they were preparing Pinnell's clemency request.
In emails to Pinnell's federal public defenders, Alexander wrote before his death in September 2012 that he had used Cornell's and Pinnell's cases as “an example of the inconsistency of the system when individuals are tried separately for the same criminal conduct.”
Alexander wrote to Pinnell's lawyers that the difference in experience between he and Pinnell's defense attorney at trial, Chris Burris, was substantial. Though Burris met the qualifications to be appointed in a capital murder case, Alexander wrote, “that does not mean he was ready to handle a case as difficult as Mr. Pinnell's.”
He wrote “the conduct of Pinnell and Cornell was virtually identical, and their individual criminal records were similar; there is no reason for the difference in sentences.”
Kitzhaber's office declined comment, other than confirming receipt of Pinnell's request.
“We did receive it and it will be put through the normal process,” governor's spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said Friday.
The governor's website says clemency is considered an “extraordinary remedy of last resort,” and urges those seeking it to exhaust all other legal remedies first. Pinnell still has a federal court of appeals case pending.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com