Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Workman Dead

"I have prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ not to lay charge of my death to any man. I commend my spirit into your hands, Lord Jesus Christ."

Shortly after speaking those words, Philip Workman's head drifted to the left, and he breathed his last visible breaths.

For a moment, we'll pretend that two of the most prominent ballistics experts in this nation didn't reach the conclusion that the fatal shot didn't come from Workman's gun. We'll pretend that the eyewitness they built their original case around was a reliable, upstanding witness rather than a convicted perjuror. We'll pretend that it was entirely fair that the judge who heard the original case was the one to preside over the appeal. We'll pretend there was nothing fishy about interring a murder victim without so much as an x-ray of the body and the state's inability to remain consistent on whether or not an x-ray existed at all.

In other words, we're casting aside the mountain of reasonable doubt in this case. We'll pretend, only for a moment, that he did it, and the state did a bang-up job of proving it. I'll even go a step further and pretend that no one in Lt. Oliver's family joined in the requests for clemency.

What did we accomplish with that needle?

Yes, the State of Tennessee sent a clear, unambiguous statement. And that statement is "Killing is wrong. And to prove that, we're going to kill you."

For even if we pretend that there was no reasonable doubt in the case, we cannot pretend that killing Philip Workman acheived any aim that imprisoning him for life did not. Is society any safer now that he no longer breathes than it was yesterday when he did? Is there someone out there contemplating murder that is going to be stopped by thinking "Workman got the needle--- Better not chance it"?

Criminologists are nearly unanimous in agreeing that the death penalty is absolutely worthless as a deterrent for crime. In this world where 50.1% is considered a "mandate", only 12% of criminologists think the death penalty has any deterrent value whatsoever.

Killing Philip Workman, even if we defy common sense by pretending there was no reasonable doubt, acheived absolutely nothing that keeping him in jail did not.


vman said...

Are you contending that Workman was actually innocent of the crime, or just that life in prison was sufficient?

There is no doubt he used a handgun to rob the Wendy's, that he fired shots at police (wounding one officer other than Oliver), and that he was involved in an altercation with Oliver at the time of the officer's death. Even if you don't believe he pulled the trigger that killed Oliver (or believe there is a reasonable doubt), his criminal actions began the series of events that caused Oliver's death. That scenario is the definition of felony murder (a wrongful death resulting from the commission of a felony) and under Tennessee law it is punishable by the death penalty because it is one form of 1st degree murder.

If you philosophically oppose the death penalty, I can certainly respect that, but let's not make this guy out to be an innocent victim of the system. He was clearly guilty of felony murder. The debate over whether he deserved a death sentence, or whether anyone should ever be put to death by the state is really separate in this case from whether he actually committed the crime.

Freedonian said...

My contention is that he didn't kill a policeman, and that even if I'm wrong, killing him accomplishes nothing.

I understand what you're saying about felony murder. Unfortunately, it's not correct.

The felony murder statute is designed to cover accomplices. There is nothing in the TN Code covering this kind of situation.

And that is the reason we've seen the kind of misconduct we've seen in this case. If the felony murder statite applied as you believe it does, then there would have been no need to pretend that the laws of physics were suspended for one day, making a large entrance wound and a tiny exit wound. The prosecution could have easily said "A policeman died in a friendly fire incident, and the law states that this body is placed at the foot of Workman".

Not what happened, though. The state has continuously defied logic, pretending that Workman fired the shot.

The law does not stretch far enough to produce the results they wanted, so they decided to stretch the facts of the case to fit the law.

I recognize that the question of his guilt or innocence is different from questioning the morality of the death sentence. For the last week, I've only been examining one. The justness of the death penalty was a fight for another day.

Today, the immediacy is gone. It's time to examine everything now.

Sharon Cobb said...

I'm such an idiot. Up until the last minute I was believing the Governor would step in and say he couldn't let this go forward because there was so much doubt on so many levels, not to mention the obvious...Workman was not eligible for the death penalty!
How could this happen?
We have to now use what happened to Workman as a way to prove to the pro death penalty side just how flawed the death penalty is, and that it's more than time to abolish it.
I'm sure you know we have an innocent man scheduled to be executed next. Innocent.
While I am firmly against the death penalty in any scenario, the fact that we just executed a man who wasn't eligible for the death penalty and an innocent man is the next person scheduled to be executed means we have to use this to end this barbaric murder of innocent and guilty lives once and for all.
The death penalty=revenge, not justice.

vman said...

Not to quibble with you cause there are bigger fish to fry, but felony murder clearly does apply to this case, not just to accomplices (See T.C.A 39-13-202 excerpt below along with the Tenn. Supreme Court case cited).

However, you may be right that the prosecutors chose to proceed under a more direct theory of premeditated murder believing it would be easier to get a conviction (and death sentence) against a "cop killer" than in a felony murder case where the death might have been caused by friendly fire. I don't know whether this decision compelled them to twist the facts and engage in misconduct as you have alleged or not.

I guess my point is that Workman really shouldn't be your poster boy for opposition to the death penalty except to the extent you don't believe in the death penalty for any crime. He was not "innocent" by any standard. I agree that nothing was accomplished by executing him that couldn't have been accomplished by keeping him in jail the rest of his life.

39-13-202. First degree murder.

(a) First degree murder is:


(2) A killing of another committed in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any first degree murder, act of terrorism, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect or aircraft piracy; or


(b) No culpable mental state is required for conviction under subdivision (a)(2) or (a)(3), except the intent to commit the enumerated offenses or acts in those subdivisions.


(c) A person convicted of first degree murder shall be punished by:

(1) Death;

(2) Imprisonment for life without possibility of parole; or

(3) Imprisonment for life.
"The evidence was held sufficient to establish to a rational trier of fact beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant entered the grocery where the killing occurred intending to commit the felony of robbery." State v. Smith, 857 S.W.2d 1 (Tenn. 1993).

Freedonian said...


I read your precedent, but it actually backs me up. Not you. Read page 5 of the PDF, which is actually page 4 of the decision:

When one enters into a scheme with others to commit a burglary or a theft and a killing ensues, all participants [Emphasis mine]in the burglary or theft may be held responsible for the death, regardless of who actually committed the murder and whether the killing was specifically contemplated by the others.

As long as the defendant intended to commit the burglary or theft and a killing resulted during the attempt to perpetrate the burglary or theft, each defendant [Again, emphasis mine] is responsible for the murder, regardless of whether he intended for the victim to die or participated in the act of murder.

If the policeman was an accomplice, the decision is applicable. Otherwise, it is not.

There simply is no precedent for this.

Freedonian said...


I certainly appreciate what you're saying about the direct theory of premeditated murder.

But Workman isn't my primary focus on opposing the death penalty. I focused on this case because it was coming up, and because it's one of the few cases where I think there was a compelling reason beyond the more generalized opposition to the death penalty to take up the cause.

A friend of mine graduated the University of Memphis with a law enforcement degree. The Workman case is discussed quite derisively there as a travesty of justice. These are not standard academics--- These are seasoned law enforcement officers he was hearing this from.

What happened to Lt. Oliver was a tragedy. I certainly wouldn't want anything happening to Officer Parker over it--- But it wasn't right to hang this shooting on Workman simply because the community was upset over a policeman's death.

Freedonian said...


Having met and argued with Bredesen, I have no problem believing he lacked the fortitude to do the right thing on this. His stock-in-trade politically is avoiding ticking off the "hang 'em high" right.

Who's next? I haven't heard anything yet.

Blinders Off said...

Are the people who have been fighting his execution going to continue their fight to prove the state was wrong to execute Workman based on the evidence that put him on death row?

Sharon Cobb said...

Paul House is next. He's actually innocent. 60 Minutes did a story on him a couple of years ago that proved it, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court said he is innocent.
How's that for an argument to abolish the death penalty?!
The Supreme Court said "Not guilty," and he's still on death row.
You can read the details at

'Coma said...

I thought the governor would intervene as well. I was surprised he didn't.
You guys are more well-versed on this(I backed up after dealing with Robert Glen Coe years ago and haven't done my homework.)
Now, I guess my question is this one: Did political staturing supercede the law on Workman's execution? Was it because the victim was a cop?
Freedonian, your insight has been quite wonderful.

vman said...

Freed, i appreciate your opinions about capital punishment, but you're just wrong on the definition of felony murder. i've been an attorney for 15 years, i understand the definition of felony murder, and i can read and interpret a statute. Please ask a criminal defense attorney to explain it to you. The concept applies to anyone committing the felony (as the case cite explains) and is not restricted to the accomplice or a scheme involving more than one criminal. Your arguments would be even better if you were more knowledgeable about the legal background.

I know this issue is inconvenient for you because it means that Workman was guilty of 1st degree murder regardless of who pulled the trigger on Lt. Oliver, but you can't just pretend that there was no legal basis to convict. Even so, there are legitimate questions about the prosecution's decision to seek the death penalty and the way the case was prosecuted.

Freedonian said...

Coma, Thank you.

I think political grandstanding has played no small role in this. I was anything but surprised that Bredesen didn't act on it. When I met him, his approvals were roughly 20 points higher among Republicans than they were among Democrats. He's burned his bridges with the American left, and I believe that he plans to run for either a Senate seat or the presidency after his term as governor ends, and he doesn't want to do anything to alienate the "hang 'em high" faction of the right. Caring enough to make sure that executions are just is far too nuanced for the "kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" crowd.

I met with him when he was running for re-election. Before that day, I cared whether or not he got re-elected. After hearing the talking points he spouted off that day and his lack of understanding of economics (At one point he grumbled that the state had raised the sales tax enough to cover what an income tax would have raised, and was shocked that it didn't help poor families in TN!) made me throw my hands up and say "Who cares if he keeps his job or not? Is he any different than Sundquist?"

Freedonian said...


I'll certainly be the first to tell you I lack intimate knowledge of state law (Although sadly, from what I've seen of the trial, I think I could have been at least as effective as Workman's origninal defense team). As if to prove that point, I pulled the wrong case when I was looking for a reference in State vs Smith. I skimmed the text looking for relevance and frankly, didn't notice the title page because I was multitasking. The decision I found was very specific in use of the word "defendants" every time the death was referred to, and I based my statements on that.

I see a trip to the library in my near future, as I cannot find the Smith decision online. So I'm taking your word for it. If the Smith decision applies in the Workman case, the fairness of that decision needs to be challenged. Workman had no more influence over Officer Parker's shots than he would have had over a bolt of lightning.

I thank you for your correction, your comments, and your willingness to question the application of the death penalty in this case.

Freedonian said...


Speaking for myself, I probably will not. There are still people sitting on death row that need the attention more. The one Sharon talks about could certainly deserve some.