On August 5, 1981 at a Memphis Wendy’s, Lt. Ronald Oliver died from a single bullet that passed through his body; in the wee hours of May 9, 2007 at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Phillip Ray Workman died from an injection of lethal chemicals. The death of Mr. Workman was administered by the State of Tennessee in the name of justice for the murder of Lt. Oliver.

By his own account, Workman was high on speed and marijuana and he needed a cocaine fix the night he robbed the Wendy’s. He has testified repeatedly that he went into the Wendy’s to rob the business of money, money he needed to buy cocaine. An employee of the restaurant pushed a panic button and when Workman was walking out he was confronted by officers of the law. There was a scuffle and Workman was hit over the head. He does not deny pulling a gun and firing it. At his trial he did not claim he didn’t do it but rather that in his altered state he was not capable of intending to murder. The jury found him guilty of capital murder in 1982 and he was sentenced to death.

Twenty-five years have passed since Philip Workman had his day in court. Evidence has since been discovered that causes one to doubt his guilt. After the trial in 1982, Workman and his attorney learned of ballistics evidence that according to experts proved he did not fire the shot that killed Lt. Oliver. This evidence had not been presented at the trial and an appeal was filed. The bullets in Workman’s gun were .45 caliber hollow points. Hollow points mushroom on impact and the exit wound in Lt Oliver was smaller than the entrance wound, proving that it was not a bullet from Workman’s gun that killed the officer.

In addition to the ballistics evidence there were claims that Workman was framed and charges of police misconduct. The only eyewitness to testify at trial that he saw Workman shoot Lt. Oliver later recanted his testimony. 

Over the years Philip Workman was asked how he would choose to die. The first time he was asked he refused to answer. He would not “play the death game” as he put it. In a 1999 article Jeff Woods wrote, “Workman winces when I ask how he would choose to die. ‘I was a drug addict strung out on cocaine when I robbed that Wendy’s. So I’ve thought that since a needle got me here, a needle will take me out,’ he says. ‘But I just don’t know if I could make that choice. It’s kind of morbid.’” Recently when asked, Workman was well aware of the case in Florida where it took over 30 minutes and two injections to end the life of Angel Nieves Diaz. Workman said the state of Tennessee no longer asked him which method he preferred but he said he would be inclined to choose the chair. He further stated that at least with the chair he would be knocked unconscious but with the chemicals he could be in pain yet paralyzed and unable to communicate that he was suffering.   

Over the years, many articles were written on this case and many folks petitioned the courts on Workman’s behalf, pleading for his life. Paula Dodillet, the daughter of Lt. Oliver, asked that mercy be shown toward Mr. Workman. She asked that his sentence be reduced to life in prison. The state denied all of the appeals filed on behalf of Mr. Workman. At 1:38AM on Wednesday, May 9, 2007 Philip Ray Workman was pronounced dead. Did we get it right?

J. Hernandez blogs at http://www.jensview.com 

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