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Virginia Gov. commutes death sentence; Colorado Gov. denies clemency

September 16, 1997

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Virginia Gov. George Allen commuted the death sentence Monday of a man who murdered a businessman, saying he’s not the same violent person who was sentenced to death seven years ago.

William Ira Saunders, 28, was found guilty by a judge in 1989 of shooting 41-year-old Mervin D. Guill in the back of the head in what police called a botched drug deal. But Judge James F. Ingram did not sentence Saunders to death until 1990, saying a heavy trial schedule forced the delay.

Ingram wrote Allen in April and said he imposed the death penalty because of Saunders’ violent conduct in jail. But he also told the governor that it would be in the ``best interest of justice″ for Saunders’ death sentence to be commuted to life in prison, because his behavior since being sentenced shows he does not pose a threat.

Prosecutor William H. Fuller III wrote that the death penalty may not have been imposed if there hadn’t been delays in sentencing.

Allen agreed to commute Saunders’ death sentence to life in prison. Saunders agreed to waive all future appeals and legal proceedings.

Allen has commuted one other death sentence. He spared death row inmate Joseph Payne last year just hours before his scheduled execution after four jurors who convicted him questioned his guilt. Payne was sentenced to die for dousing another inmate with paint thinner and setting him afire in 1985.

Also Monday, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer denied a request for clemency for a condemned killer who kidnapped, raped and murdered a woman, clearing the way for the state’s first execution in 30 years.

Gary Davis, 53, was sentenced to die for the 1986 murder of Virginia ``Ginny″ May, who was tortured, raped, and shot to death.

Davis has exhausted all his appeals and is scheduled to be executed by injection next month.

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