[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jul 8 23:08:35 CDT 2004
Too many questions
It's not often we call for careful reconsideration of the criminal case
involving a inmate on death row at the Mansfield Correctional Institution.
The judicial system in death penalty cases has many checks and balances
along the way.
And while we do not advocate today for or against the imposition of the
death penalty in Ohio, we believe the state's judicial system provides a
fair system for its imposition. Inmates on death row, we believe, have
been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime for which they
That's why we are troubled today by the fact John G. Spirko Jr. may soon
face execution for the 1982 murder of an Elgin postmistress. After a
examination of the facts surrounding the case, with the benefit of two
decades of hindsight, we believe many questions should be answered before
this ultimate penalty is exacted.
In a recent two-day series, the News Journal offered information that
raises questions about Spirko's role in the killing of Betty Jane
Mottinger. These questions are led by the fact prosecutors decided not to
bring accused accomplice Delaney Gibson to trial, a move that has Spirko
and his attorneys renewing efforts to get a new trial.
Gibson faced a capital murder charge for the crime while serving 15 years
of a 20-to-life sentence in Kentucky for an unrelated murder, but was
paroled in July 2001.
At issue are photographs, receipts and other evidence that show a bearded
Gibson in North Carolina the night before the crime, which happened at
8:30 a.m. more than 500 miles away in Elgin, near Indiana. Spirko obtained
the photographs from postal records after a 10-year fight, and argues the
state inappropriately concealed the Gibson alibi.
The state's key eyewitness testified she was 100-percent certain she saw a
clean-shaven Gibson outside the post office the morning of the murder. She
was shown an old mug shot of him without a beard and never saw him at
trial because he escaped a Kentucky jail and was on the run.
In order for this murder to have occurred in the manner which the state
alleges, Gibson must have finished visiting with relatives in North
Carolina early Sunday evening, shaved his beard, jumped in a vehicle and
drove more than 500 miles through the night to northwestern Ohio. Spirko,
a convicted murderer and former cellmate of Gibson's, was paroled 13 days
earlier and was living in Swanton with his sister. He allegedly met Gibson
and the pair made the two-hour drive to the tiny village of Elgin, where
they robbed the post office of less than $100 before kidnapping and
murdering the postmistress.
No physical evidence links Spirko to the crime: He matches none of the
fingerprints lifted, no blood evidence, no fibers, no murder weapon, no
The chief link is the stories Spirko told trying to bargain himself into
the witness protection program and get his girlfriend out of trouble for
smuggling him hacksaw blades into the county jail, where he was being held
on unrelated assault charges. He admitted his involvement in the killing,
according to a postal inspector. That is the primary evidence against him.
It's an admission he now denies.
In a recent opinion, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Ronald Lee Gilman said the
case record "leaves me with considerable doubt as to whether he has been
lawfully subjected to the death penalty."
Spirko should not be executed until those questions and doubts have been
(source: Editorial, Mansfield News Journal)
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