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Board Halts Execution of Man Who Won Backing From Rock Stars

June 17, 1986

ATLANTA (AP) _ A mentally retarded man whose fight to escape execution drew support from international rock stars and mental health groups won a reprieve Tuesday, eight hours before he was scheduled to die.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles decided to halt the execution of Jerome Bowden, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, for up to 90 days while his mental competency is evaluated.

″I won’t anticipate any deep, insightful reaction from him because he didn’t understand what was happening in the first place,″ said Patricia Smith, one of Bowden’s attorneys and president of the Association for Retarded Citizens of Georgia.

While the board granted a temporary reprieve, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday turned down a request for a stay of execution, saying Bowden’s claims that blacks were unfairly excluded from the jury that convicted him should have been raised earlier.

Attorneys for Bowden said they would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court later this week.

Rock ‘n’ roll musicians Sting, Lou Reed and members of the band U2 spoke out last week against Bowden’s scheduled execution. They were in Atlanta to appear in one of the ″Conspiracy of Hope″ concerts to benefit the human rights organization Amnesty International.

A test conducted when Bowden was 14 years old found he had an I.Q. of 59, far below normal, his attorneys said.

Bowden, 33, was convicted in 1976 of murder in the death of Kathryn Stryker, who was beaten to death during a robbery in her Columbus home.

His co-defendant, James Graves, received a life term.

The suspension of Bowden’s execution marked the first time in seven cases that the board has ruled in favor of a death row inmate since Georgia resumed executions in 1983.

Board Chairman Wayne Snow Jr. said the five-member panel felt there was ″no question″ that Bowden was guilty of killing Mrs. Stryker, but he said enough questions were raised about Bowden’s mental state to justify halting the execution.

The decision was based largely on the fact that Bowden has not received a psychiatric evaluation since he was a teen-ager, Snow said. During his trial, Bowden’s original lawyer withdrew a motion to have his client tested.

Bowden’s attorneys, in their petition to the board for clemency, provided letters from friends, relatives and mental health organizations saying Bowden’s handicap is such that he does not know right from wrong nor understand the death penalty he faces.

Ms. Smith called the parole board decision a ″tremendous relief″ but said the legal team would continue pursuing court appeals.

Attorney General Michael Bowers, whose office represented the state in the Bowden appeal, could not immediately be reached for comment on the board’s action. He was not in his office when a reporter called.

The paroles board is the only body outside the courts that has the power to reduce sentences in Georgia. Snow refused to disclose the board’s vote.

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