Monday, March 5, 2007
Washington University Law School Clinic Prof Jane Aiken and third-year law student Olivia Bradbury will argue a habeas petition before the Missouri Supreme Court on March 8. Aiken, Bradbury, and the School of Law’s Civil Justice Clinic are representing a domestic violence victim who received a commutation from the governor, but then was denied parole. Bradbury is serving as second chair.
The oldest female inmate in Missouri, Shirley Lute, 76, has been incarcerated for more than 28 years for her role in the murder of her abusive husband. The clinic initially was successful in helping Lute obtain a commutation in part because her husband’s physical, psychological, and emotional abuse of her was not brought into evidence at the time of her original trial. These mitigating circumstances likely would have led to a lesser sentence, had she been tried during today’s awareness of Battered Spouse Syndrome. Lute also already had served more than three times the average amount of time served for a violent felony in Missouri.
“Governor Holden commuted Ms. Lute’s sentence because he believed that she had served enough time in prison to satisfy the state’s interests in retribution, public safety, punishment, and deterrence,” Aiken noted. “The parole board grossly exceeded its authority, when it ignored the governor’s intent and instead of weighing the merits of her exit plan, focused on the commission of the original crime.
“Ms. Lute has been a model prisoner, has a support system of family and friends waiting for her release, and has a means of supporting herself financially,” Aiken said. “It is travesty of justice that more than two years after Governor Holden commuted her sentence to life with immediate possibility of parole, she remains incarcerated.”
In addition to Aiken, students in the Civil Justice Clinic, clinic attorney Stephen Ryals, and the Missouri Battered Women’s Clemency Coalition have worked on the case.