by Hugo Adam Bedau and Michael L. Radelet

Excerpt from Appendix A: Catalogue of Defendants

PHILLIPS, RICHARD (black). 1900. Virginia. Phillips was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The only witness against Phillips was Grant Watts; a week after Phillips’ conviction Watts was acquitted on the same charge. Phillips’ attorney had been appointed only two hours before the trial. In 1901, a special jury found Phillips insane; consequently he was transferred to a mental hospital and the execution was postponed pending his recovery. After Phillips was committed to the hospital, his attorney learned that Watts was indeed the murderer. He also learned that the fatal shot could not have been fired from Phillips’ weapon; the attorney had been unable to demonstrate this in court because he lacked the time to investigate the case before trial. Thinking Phillips was hopelessly insane, the attorney made no effort to correct the record. In 1930, the attorney, by this time a state attorney, was contacted by Phillips’ sister, and informed the governor of these facts. He added: “I am morally certain this man was convicted of a crime he did not commit, and if anyone was ever entitled to clemency, or rather justice, he is.”1 A month later, Governor Pollard granted a pardon, and Phillips was released.2


1. Letter from Mr. B. Lewis to Governor John Pollard (Oct. 17, 1930), quoted in E. Borchard, Memorandum on the Phillips Case 2 (unpublished manuscript on file with the Stanford Law Review).
2. Executive Papers of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Oct. 9-31, 1930 (available in Virginia State Library Archives).