Last-ditch plea for Briton on US Death Row

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The Independent US

Three members of a judicial panel that will tomorrow decide the fate of a British citizen on Death Row in the US are themselves under legal investigation.

Tracy Housel, 43, who has spent the last 16 years on Death Row, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in a prison in the US state of Georgia on Tuesday.

Housel – convicted of murdering a hitchhiker in 1985 – claims British citizenship because he was born in the dependent territory of Bermuda, where his parents were working.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has telephoned Roy Barnes, the Governor of Georgia, to ask for clemency, and last week Tony Blair's spokesman said the Prime Minister would get personally involved in the case.

Lawyers for Housel have now exhausted virtually every legal option to try and save his life. They have argued that he never received a fair trial and that the jury was not told of a medical condition that created psychotic experiences.

Tomorrow they will seek clemency from the Georgia board of pardons and parole and ask that Housel's sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. But Housel's lawyers have argued that the board is incapable of making a fair decision and that its members are suffering a conflict of interest.

Two of them – including the chairman – are themselves under investigation by the state Attorney General, Thurbett Baker, for alleged corruption while a third is being sued for sexual harassment while working as a member of the parole board.

In this third case, the board member is being defended by the Attorney General because he is a state official. Housel's lawyers say because Mr Baker's office sought the death penalty in their client's case, the parole board members will not want to antagonise him.

Beth Wells, one of Housel's lawyers, said: "Two of the members are under investigation by the Attorney General – anything they do that seems to be contrary to him ... runs the risk of upsetting the people investigating them.

"[The other man] is being represented by the office of the Death Row and for the same reason [he] has not to fall out with him."

Board chairman Walter Ray and member Bobby Whitworth are being investigated for allegedly lobbying the state legislature on behalf of a private firm that provided probation facilities for the counties within the state. That firm was paying Mr Whitworth and Mr Ray as consultants, in addition to the $108,900 (£76,700) a year they receive as parole board members.

Last Friday, lawyers filed a civil suit against Gene Walker, a third board member, accusing him of sexually harassing his former parole board assistant, Patricia Alexander.

A copy of the complaint obtained by The Independent on Sunday claims Mr Walker used "sexually-orientated and obscene language, commenting on the sexual activities and preferences of other men and women, discussing his own sexual preferences ... and making offensive remarks concerning [the] plaintiff's anatomy".

It claims that Mr Walker eventually had her removed from her position, complaining to her immediate supervisor she "was disabled, too skinny and didn't have enough ass" for him to fancy her.

Bobby Lee Cook, the lawyer representing Mr Whitworth and Mr Ray, said last night that neither men had been charged. "Indeed they will plead not guilty," he added. A spokeswoman for the parole board denied the members had a conflict of interest and said the board had recently commuted a death sentence, proving it was prepared to offer clemency where it felt it was appropriate.