Originally created 08/17/00

Williams pleads for clemency



A week before his execution date, Augusta native Alexander Williams has written to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles admitting his guilt and asking for clemency.

Mr. Williams, now 32, was 17 years old when he murdered 16-year-old Aleta Bunch after kidnapping, raping and robbing the Beech Island girl March 4, 1986.

"I am asking the people of Georgia to show compassion toward me, something that at 17 I regret was outside my own power of humanity," Mr. Williams wrote Aug. 9.

Mr. Williams is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 in the state's electric chair in Jackson.

His attorneys might ask the Georgia Supreme Court for a stay and permission to further appeal by Monday's deadline. They also might seek further appeals in U.S. District Court. They have informed the parole board a formal request for clemency - to commute Mr. Williams' death sentence to life in prison - should be filed Monday, said Stephanie McConnell of the board's public information office.

The board can issue a one-time 90-day stay of execution if it decides to consider the petition, Ms. McConnell said.

In addition to Mr. Williams' letter, the board has received 30 to 40 e-mails and letters in support of clemency, including letters from former first lady Rosalynn Carter and the Rev. John F. Donoghue, archbishop of Atlanta.

"This case is very troubling to me, both because of Mr. Williams's youth at the time he received his death sentence and because he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia," Mrs. Carter wrote. "I urge you in the interest of justice and humanity to commute Mr. Williams's sentence to life in prison. Commuting his sentence would not excuse his crime but would acknowledge the mitigating circumstances of his youth and mental illness."

For the first time in his letter, Mr. Williams admits he killed Aleta, and he apologizes.

"I no longer have the will or arrogance to make demands on justice in striking hypocritical poses," Mr. Williams wrote. "I would like to acknowledge my culpability and apologize .ƒ.ƒ.

"I am not asking forgiveness .ƒ.ƒ. I ask, instead, consider not just the age of one principal in this tragedy but of both. I failed in the endeavor of compassion toward a fellow human being and I am sorry."

Aleta's mother, Carolyn Bunch, has waited 14´ years to hear Mr. Williams admit to what he did. For the man who took her child, however, it is not enough. "It doesn't change my mind. I think he should still get the death penalty.

"Those people (writing on Mr. Williams' behalf) should know what it feels like. No, I can't say that. I wouldn't ask for it to happen to another child," Mrs. Bunch said.

Mr. Williams' case has been specifically posted on the American Bar Association and Amnesty International Web sites. Ms. McConnell estimated the majority of letters received so far on behalf of Mr. Williams come from outside the United States, mainly Europe.

Both organizations note Mr. Williams was tried, convicted and sentenced to die in a Richmond County Superior Court in a fourday trial within months of Aleta's murder. Both note information presented by attorneys years later, too late to persuade an appeals court to overturn the death sentence, that Mr. Williams suffered a childhood of physical and sexual abuse and has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Mr. Williams, who lost at the three basic appeal levels open to him and lost a second attempt at a state court appeal, has few options left.

The Georgia Supreme Court could issue a stay of his execution only if four of the justices vote to consider an issue filed on Mr. Williams' behalf, said Michael Mears, director of the MultiCounty Public Defender Office. If the state's highest court declines to issue a stay, Mr. Williams can petition federal courts, which have already rejected his appeals.

Although Georgia has a new law replacing execution by lethal injection for electrocution, it does not apply to death row inmates sentenced before May. The Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of death by electrocution in the case of another Georgia death row inmate.

But as it stands right now, said Daryl Robinson of the state's attorney general office, electrocution is permissible in Georgia. His office, which represents the state of Georgia in death penalty appeals, can only await petitions on Mr. Williams' behalf before the office attorneys can respond, he said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.