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Lawyers ask Georgia panel to spare condemned man’s life

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ATLANTA — Lawyers for a Georgia man set to be executed this week want the state parole board to convert his sentence to life without the possibility of parole, arguing that’s what the jury would have chosen if given the chance.

Jimmy Fletcher Meders, 58, was convicted of murder and sentenced to die for the October 1987 killing of convenience store clerk Don Anderson in coastal Glynn County. He’s scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday.

In a clemency application filed with the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Meders’ lawyers urged board members to spare his life. The board is the only authority in Georgia that can commute a death sentence. It plans to hold a closed-door clemency hearing Wednesday.

Meders was sentenced in 1989, four years before a sentence of life without the possibility of parole was allowed in capital cases. It’s clear that his jurors would have preferred to have had that option, lawyer Michael Admirand wrote in the clemency petition. He cited a note that jurors wrote to the judge after deliberating for about 20 minutes.

“If the Jury recommends that the accused be sentence to life imprisonment, can the Jury recommend that the sentence be carried out without Parole??” the jurors asked.

Additionally, the six jurors who are still alive and able to remember the deliberations said in sworn statements collected by Meders’ attorneys that they would have chosen life without parole. They didn’t believe he was among the “worst of the worst” criminals who deserve the death penalty, but they also didn’t want him released, Admirand wrote.

“By commuting Meders’ sentence to life without parole, this Board would not be overturning the jury’s determination as to the appropriate sentence. It would be effectuating it,” Admirand wrote.

Meders spent the afternoon of Oct. 13, 1987, drinking alcohol with three men, Randy Harris, Bill Arnold and Greg Creel. After leaving Harris and driving around for hours, Meders, Creel and Arnold ended up at a convenience store about 2:30 a.m. the next morning.

While they were there, Anderson was fatally shot in the chest and head, and more than $30 was taken from the cash register.

Meders testified at his trial that all three men went inside, and Arnold shot Anderson and told Meders to grab the cash. Arnold and Creel both testified that only Creel and Meders entered the store, and Meders shot the clerk and took the money.

Harris, who wasn’t at the store, testified Meders confessed to him afterward that he had killed a man for $38.

Meders was the only one charged in the robbery and killing.

An analysis by Meders’ attorneys of Georgia cases for which the death penalty was sought between 2008 and 2018 shows that in cases like his, with a single victim and few aggravating factors, juries don’t choose the death penalty today. Additionally, Admirand wrote, prosecutors rarely seek the death penalty now in cases like his.

Meders’ attorneys made similar arguments last week about the trial jurors’ change of heart and the application of the death penalty to cases like his, asserting in a petition filed in Butts County Superior Court that his death sentence violates the state and U.S. constitutions. State attorneys forcefully rejected the arguments.

Meders’ crimes, “including the execution of an unarmed man during the commission of an armed robbery, are squarely within the type of crimes for which the death penalty is sought,” lawyers for the state wrote in response to that filing.

The clemency application also notes that despite a rough childhood characterized by poverty, addiction and abuse, Meders had no criminal history prior to Anderson’s slaying and had served his country and community in the National Guard for seven years. Since he’s been on death row, Admirand wrote, he’s been a model inmate, with only a single disciplinary action in three decades.

Meders knows that the crime would not have happened without him, as it was his gun and he participated, the clemency application says. But doubts about Arnold and Creel’s credibility and the fact that Meders was the only person charged raise serious concerns, Admirand wrote.

Meders would be the first prisoner executed in Georgia in 2020. The state executed three men in 2019. Georgia’s execution protocol calls for a lethal injection of the sedative pentobarbital.

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