[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----OHIO, KAN., WIS., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 21 16:56:15 CST 2005
LOATHSOME, BUT NOT GUILTY ---- A veteran crime reporter - and death
penalty advocate - states the case against executing John Spirko
I am not a fan of John Spirko. He is a loathsome human being who
throughout his nearly 6 decades on this Earth has repeatedly displayed the
most despicable traits a man can possess. He has robbed people and long
ago killed an elderly woman.
I am a proponent of the death penalty. We spend entirely too much time and
effort prolonging the lives of those who have proved themselves unfit for
And I am being true to both preceding statements when I insist the state
of Ohio will be making a grave error if it executes Spirko.
Spirko has been on death row for more than 20 years for the murder of
Betty Jane Mottinger, the postmaster in Elgin, Ohio, a town of 96
residents 20 miles west of Lima. The 48-year-old Mottinger was abducted
from the tiny post office shortly after she arrived at work on Aug. 9,
1982. 6 weeks later, a father and son hunting butterflies for a science
project found her body near the Blanchard River west of Findlay.
Spirko had been scheduled to die Tuesday. Gov. Bob Taft agreed last week
to delay his execution for two months while the state conducts DNA
testing. Attorney General Jim Petro requested the delay while the tests
were conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation in
This is a delay that should be extended for the rest of Spirko's life. As
a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch and later as a freelance writer, I
spent hundreds of hours researching the case for the paper and later for a
yet-unpublished book. I read and reread the trial transcripts, interviewed
investigators and attorneys, and talked at length with a handcuffed and
shackled Spirko when he was imprisoned at the Southern Ohio Correctional
Facility in Lucasville. I corresponded with Spirko for years while
researching the case.
John Spirko would lie when it's easier to tell the truth. How much of what
he told me was factual and how much was a product of his pathological
personality is difficult to say. Despite this, there are facts to his
story that are indisputable.
Spirko was visiting with his parole officer in Toledo -100 miles away -
within a half-hour of Mottinger's disappearance. While the parole officer
told me he didn't have the precise meeting time marked on his calendar, he
always did initial visits first thing in the morning. The abduction
occurred at 8:30 a.m. Spirko's probation officer testified that he met
with Spirko 1st thing the morning of Aug. 9, and he arrived at work at 9
There is not a single eyewitness who can place Spirko in Elgin the morning
of the abduction or at any other time. A truck driver from a nearby grain
elevator told authorities that he saw a man lingering near the post office
the morning of the abduction. The truck driver said the man he saw was
about 5-10 and weighed about 240 pounds, with wild black hair, a
protruding belly and no visible tattoos.
At the time, Spirko was 6-1 and a lean 180 pounds, with a washboard
stomach. He had striking blond hair that he wore in a ducktail and had
tattoos covering both arms.
A key prosecution witness - a former cellmate of Spirko's whose sentence
was greatly reduced in exchange for his testimony - said Spirko told him
he was in jail for "killing a post office lady." Actually, Spirko was in
jail for a parole violation at the time. This alleged confession occurred
8 months before he was ever charged with Mottinger's murder. An
inexperienced defense attorney allowed the information to pass to the jury
There is not a shred of physical evidence showing Spirko had ever been in
the post office. Investigators found 14 unidentified fingerprints at the
post office, but none belonged to Spirko.
So how, you might legitimately ask, did Spirko even become a suspect in
the investigation? Actually, it was a product of his own devising.
The Mottinger murder had investigators baffled. Stories in newspapers told
of their frustrations. They had no suspects and it appeared that it might
go unsolved until they received a call from Spirko, who was then a
prisoner in the Lucas County Jail in Toledo. According to Spirko, these
are the events that led to his arrest in the Mottinger case:
A few weeks before Mottinger disappeared, Spirko was released from the
Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville after serving 12 years of a life
sentence for the 1970 strangulation death of 84-year-old Myra Ashcraft of
Covington, Ky. He robbed and killed Ashcraft for what amounted to a few
hundred dollars in cash and jewelry.
Following his release from Eddyville, Spirko moved in with his sister in
Swanton, Ohio, near Toledo.
It took only a few weeks for Spirko to get back in trouble. He began
hanging out at the Longbranch Saloon, which was also the hangout of a
biker gang, the Iron Coffins. After an evening of drinking and running his
mouth, Spirko got into a very lopsided fight with 5 or 6 members of the
Iron Coffins. His face swelled beyond recognition, and he had gashes in
The next night, Spirko returned to the Longbranch with a headache, a bad
attitude and a shotgun. In the course of trying to locate the bikers who
had inflicted the beating, Spirko tried to force the girlfriend of one of
the men to lead him to them by holding a shotgun to her head. He was
arrested a few hours later, charged with kidnapping, assault and violating
his parole, and taken to the Fulton County Jail.
Spirko convinced his girlfriend at the time to sneak him some hacksaw
He escaped from the cell, thumped a deputy and nearly made it out of the
jail before another deputy backed him down with a revolver. Spirko was
moved to the more secure Lucas County Jail in Toledo, and his girlfriend
also was arrested.
Desperate to get his girlfriend off the hook, Spirko contacted
investigators and claimed to have information on the Mottinger abduction
and murder, which he told me he learned about from reading the papers. In
exchange for the information, he wanted all charges against his girlfriend
Over the next several months, Spirko met with investigators, giving them a
variety of wild stories, stringing them along while negotiating for his
The more he talked, the wilder the stories got. They included such
fictitious characters as Red the Big Mouth, Candy the Junkie, Rooster,
Dopeman from Toledo, Spooky with the piercing black eyes, Dirty Dan, David
Swartz from South Bend, Lefty, Toro and the Cuban.
In some of the stories, Spirko implicated Delaney Gibson, who had shared a
cell with him in Kentucky. (Gibson also was indicted for Mottinger's
death, but Van Wert County officials later dropped all charges against
him.) Spirko later said he got the information he gave investigators from
newspaper reports or simply regurgitated what the investigators themselves
When his girlfriend was sentenced to prison for her role in the jailbreak,
Spirko refused to cooperate further with investigators.
According to Spirko, an investigator said, "We're going to indict Delaney
Gibson, and you're going to be our star witness. And if you don't
cooperate, we'll indict you, too."
"I laughed at them," Spirko said. "I told them, 'Give it your best shot.'
And I'll be damned if they didn't."
After his conviction, Spirko stood up and told the Van Wert County jury to
give him the death penalty.
"In retrospect," he said, "it wasn't one of my better moves."
In a lifetime of bad moves, it now stands as the apex.
I have seen state officials claim that Spirko's conviction should stand,
in part because he had information only the killer could have known. This
has been repeated so often that it has become gospel, when in reality it
simply isn't true.
This started during the trial, when an investigator testified that Spirko
had knowledge of key information only the killer could have possessed.
Only the killer could have been privy to this information, the
investigator said, because it had never been released to the press. His
- Mottinger had suffered stab wounds to the upper body. While authorities
said she had been stabbed, he insisted they had never disclosed the
location of the wounds.
- Spirko knew the color and type of clothing she had been wearing.
- Her body was found wrapped in a curtain.
- Spirko knew that Mottinger's purse was missing.
Through my investigation for the book, I found at least 5 different
newspaper articles that had described the very points the prosecution
claimed had never been released. But defense attorneys allowed the
information to pass unchallenged.
The state would have you believe Spirko's conviction was proof that our
system of justice works. In reality, his conviction was the result of his
own stupidity, overzealous crime investigators and a defense team that was
so bad it would be comical if it were not so tragic.
(His current attorneys did not participate in his original defense.)
Did Spirko somehow come in contact with Mottinger at a later time and
commit the murder? If he did, it's unlikely it occurred the day of the
abduction. Virtually his entire day can be accounted for. Consider:
- 9 a.m.: Spirko met with his parole officer.
- Noon-12:15 p.m.: After the meeting with the parole officer, Spirko's
sister developed a migraine headache. Spirko said he drove her to the
Toledo-area office of Dr. Edward W. Bringman for an injection of Demerol.
The physician's records showed that she paid for the injection between
noon and 12:15 p.m.
Bringman testified that he didn't remember Spirko being present but said
he wouldn't have given the debilitating injection if someone hadn't been
there to drive her home.
- 1:30 p.m.: A former girlfriend testified that she called Spirko at his
- 2:14 p.m.: Records from United Telephone of Ohio show that Spirko called
the Kentucky State Prison from his sister's house. A guard at the prison
remembered the call because Spirko was anxious to receive a television set
he had left behind.
- Late afternoon: Spirko signed for a package at the Swanton Post Office,
just west of Toledo. The postal receipt was signed by Kay Stickles, who
worked from 2:27 to 5:12 p.m. that day.
When I was shopping around my manuscript on the case, I received numerous
letters from publishers, all of whom wrote with similar comments: This is
a fascinating story. However, your main character is so reprehensible that
no one will care about him and therefore no one will buy the book.
Those comments, I believe, suggest the real reason Spirko remains on death
row. He is wild, uncaring and vicious; he represents everything we fear in
society. He is a predator and prison is the perfect place for him.
Should he have been executed for strangling Myra Ashcraft in Kentucky? I
would have had no problem with that. However, he served the time the state
of Kentucky said was required for the crime.
The fact is, despite his lurid past, he shouldn't be on death row in Ohio.
He has committed many crimes, but he most likely didn't commit the one for
which he is scheduled to die.
Is there proof positive that he didn't do it? No. But there also is no
proof that he committed the murder, and the circumstantial evidence leans
heavily in his favor.
Barring conclusive DNA evidence from the current tests, Gov. Bob Taft
should commute Spirko's sentence to life in prison without chance of
This case should be a great concern for proponents of the death penalty.
Once the wrong person is executed, that will be the end of capital
punishment in this state.
Lawrence attorneys to fight death penalty
2 lawyers who live in Lawrence will go before the U.S. Supreme Court next
month to argue that Kansas death-penalty law is unconstitutional.
"At this stage, I am totally immersed in this case. Its all I think
about," said Rebecca Woodman, an attorney with the Kansas Capital
Appellate Defender's Office who has lived in Lawrence since 1998. "Most of
my time is spent thinking, reading, reflecting and preparing arguments."
Woodman is the lead attorney representing Michael Lee Marsh II, a Wichita
man sentenced to death after being convicted of the 1996 murders of a
woman and her 19-month-old daughter. Last year, the Kansas Supreme Court
found in Marshs case that the state's death penalty was unconstitutional
because of the instructions it gives to jurors in deciding how to weigh
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to take the case at the
request of Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, who will appear on behalf of the
state. Arguments are scheduled for the morning of Dec. 7.
Woodman will be accompanied by Janine Cox, another attorney in the Capital
Appellate Defenders Office who has lived in Lawrence since 1984.
"My job is to make (Woodman) as comfortable as possible," Cox said. "I try
to take care of the little details of things so that she doesn't have to
worry about anything except the case itself."
6 on death row
No one has been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas
in 1994. There are 6 people awaiting the death sentence, including repeat
murderers such as John E. Robinson Sr., of Johnson County, and brothers
Jonathan and Reginald Carr, of Wichita.
When deciding whether to give the death penalty, Kansas jurors have been
required to weigh a list of aggravating factors - for example if it was a
murder for hire - against a list of mitigating factors, such as the
persons age or criminal history.
The problem with the law, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled last year in
Marshs case, was that it directed jurors to give the death sentence if the
aggravating factors and mitigating factors were equal. In essence, a tie
went to the prosecutors - not to the defendant.
Its something no other state does. In her brief to the U.S. Supreme Court,
Woodman wrote that the practice "flouts the Eighth Amendment requirement
of individualized capital sentencing."
"This is a death sentence rendered without the jury's having made a
collective decision that the individual circumstances of the defendants
case mark it as more deserving of death than any other generic
death-eligible conviction," she wrote.
No one can say that someone sentenced to death under that scenario, she
wrote, "was actually found by the jury to deserve that punishment."
Kline, however, is arguing that such a scenario is constitutional, saying
that all that's required by the constitution is that the jury "be allowed
to consider any relevant evidence."
But there's a possibility the Supreme Court won't even get to the question
of whether that formula is constitutional. Woodman is asking the Supreme
Court to find that it doesnt have jurisdiction over Marshs case, in part
because the state didnt challenge whether the scenario was
unconstitutional when arguing the Marsh case at the state level.
In fact, that issue had been addressed 3 years earlier.
The Kansas court found it was unconstitutional in a 2001 case, State v.
Kleypas. But instead of striking down the death penalty as a whole, the
court tried to fix the problem by ordering the language to be interpreted
to mean that aggravating factors must outweigh mitigating factors for
someone to be put to death.
Kline has been a vocal critic of the court, saying the sequence of
decisions has caused "confusion and uncertainty."
Kline spokesman Whitney Watson said that regardless of the outcome of this
case, he anticipates lawmakers will find a way to pass a constitutional
"The attorney general believes that justice demands we have the death
penalty in the state," he said. "It's become a priority for the office."
What's at stake next month before the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, is the
fate of the 6 people now awaiting execution.
"If the High Court doesn't overturn this state's Supreme-Court decision,
those people will never face the death penalty," Watson predicted.
(source: Lawrence Journal-World)
Reynolds circulates death penalty bill
A state legislator revealed his intensions to reignite the death penalty
debate in Wisconsin Friday.
State Sen. Tom Reynolds, R-West Allis, announced he is seeking co-sponsors
for the legislation, which would reinstate capital punishment in Wisconsin
as a sentencing option for crimes of first-degree homicide, first- or
2nd-degree sexual assault and mutilation of the same victim. One provision
of the bill would only allow the punishment to be used if DNA evidence
were available to show a link between the defendant and the crime.
"My bill allows capital punishment for only the most egregious criminal
acts," Reynolds said in a release. "The DNA requirement linking the
defendant to the crimes will help ensure that only the guilty are
punished. I believe the death penalty will have a deterrent effect that
will save innocent lives."
Senate President Alan Lasee, R-DePere, said he would support such
legislation, adding he co-authored a bill with Reynolds, which was
introduced early in the year, calling for a referendum on the issue.
Letting the public weigh in on the topic would allow legislators to
proceed with proposals regarding the death penalty with voters wishes in
mind, Lasee said.
"I know that if we were to pass [a death penalty bill] in both houses,
Gov. Doyle would most likely veto it," Lasee said. "So I think it is
important to find out what the people of Wisconsin have to say about it."
Wisconsin's history with the death penalty dates back to before its
statehood was granted. Though an unknown number of executions occurred
before 1848, only one instance of capital punishment was used after
Wisconsin became a state. In 1851, a man was publicly hung in Kenosha
after he was convicted of drowning his wife in a well. The hanging drew
hundreds of spectators, and one year later, petitions were submitted to
the state asking for a repeal of the death penalty. In 1853, capital
punishment was abolished in Wisconsin.
Yet since then, several attempts have been made to reinstitute the death
In cases such as the cannibal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the death
penalty would have been a suitable punishment, Lasee said, noting the
death penalty would be reserved as an option for only the most horrific
"Not all murders would result in asking for district attorneys asking for
the death penalty or judges imposing it," Lasee said, adding lethal
injection would be the sole method used to execute prisoners if the death
penalty were brought back. "This would be used for very select cases."
Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, a staunch opponent of the death penalty,
said the government should not have the power to take peoples lives. He
added a life imprisonment sentence without parole is more appropriate for
such heinous crimes.
"I've visited our state prisons, and believe me - spending the rest of
your life in a state prison is not a pleasant thing - it's a significant
punishment," Black said. "As a society I dont believe we should sink to
the level of the criminals."
Though Lasee said he stands behind the death penalty because he feels the
punishment for atrocious offenses should fit the crime, Black said no such
thing can be achieved by the Legislature.
"If someone's a rapist, were not going to rape him; if someone tortured
their victim, we are not going to torture them," Black said. "It's one of
the reasons we have a moral society that is different from the criminals."
One other issue, Black said, is the drawn-out appeals process that
proceeds administration of the death penalty, creating a hefty financial
burden on the state.
However, Lasee said cost issues could be worked out by reforming the
states appeals system, thus removing the expense hindrance.
Though the bill stipulates there must be DNA evidence in order to hand
down a punishment of the death penalty, Black also said there is no
foolproof way to ensure wrongful convictions do not occur.
"As we have found out, sometimes we make mistakes in the criminal justice
system," Black said. "And if you kill someone, you can't reverse the
(source: The Badger Herald)
Rev. Jackson, Bianca Jagger to visit Williams on death row
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and celebrity activist Bianca Jagger were set to
visit death row inmate Stanley Tookie Williams on Monday, according to the
Jackson and Jagger, a former model once married to rock legend Mick Jagger
of the Rolling Stones, will visit Williams before holding a news
conference outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison, Barbara Becnel
Williams' execution is set for Dec. 13. He was convicted in 1979 of
killing four people during two Los Angeles robberies. While on death row,
he's received international acclaim for an array of peace efforts,
including his children's books warning kids to stay away from gangs.
Williams has asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for clemency, which the Los
Angeles County District Attorney's office opposes.
(source: Associated Press)
Daughter of Victim Talks of Williams----Woman is angry that the convicted
murderer has not taken responsibility for killing her father and three
others in 1979 but has forgiven him.
Rebecca Owens spoke Sunday about pain, but not about punishment, about
responsibility, but not about revenge.
She was 8 years old when her father was murdered - shot twice in the back
at close range. She is 35 today and will not say whether Stanley Tookie
Williams should be executed next month for the 1979 murders of Albert
Owens and 3 others in Southern California.
"I have not asked anyone to be killed," Owens told a gathering here of
1,200 high school students during what she described as her 1st public
appearance. "I did not make that decision. A jury of 12 people based on
the evidence decided the crime was so heinous that it deserved death."
She would not say whether she agreed with the jury that declared the
co-founder of the Crips street gang guilty and sentenced him to die. She
also insisted that she was not "advocating his death."
"I'm not here to say that," Owens responded to a student question during
the Junior State of America convention here. "I'm not doing this out of
vengeance. I'm here for me, for hope. I want my dad's death to mean
something. Hopefully, it will mean that some of you guys will walk out of
here thinking, not just blindly following."
Junior State of America is a 71-year-old organization designed to inspire
high school students to be active in politics.
On Saturday, Williams himself addressed the group from San Quentin State
Prison's death row as part of a panel discussion that included rapper
Snoop Dogg. The singer is working to help persuade Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger to grant Williams clemency.
Williams has denied that he committed the murders. He insists that he
underwent a transformation after a decade in prison.
Along with Barbara Becnel, he has co-written books for children advocating
an end to violence and an avoidance of gang life. He has been nominated
for the Nobel Prize for his anti-gang efforts.
Owens seems angry that Williams has not taken responsibility for the
murders and has not apologized to the families of the victims. But with
time, she said, she has forgiven the man who murdered her father in the
convenience store where he worked.
She appeared Sunday to give the students the victim's side of the death
penalty debate, alongside Debra Saunders, a San Francisco Chronicle
Saunders said Williams would "do more good dead" than alive and speaking
out against violence. "It would prove you pay a penalty for murdering
someone," she said.
But Owens was as cryptic and mysterious as Saunders was adamant.
She said she would not "talk about how I feel about the death penalty, out
of respect to the state of California."
Owens, a widow and mother of four, is a cosmetology student. She did not
reveal her married name or where she lives. She does not allow her picture
to be taken.
"I have children, and they know about my dad, but it's not a part of our
everyday life," she told reporters after the event. "We have our own
Owens only flew to Northern California, she said, to help the student
leaders learn to get all the facts and think for themselves before they
make decisions in life.
It is the same message that she has for Schwarzenegger: "Look into the
whole story. Make an informed decision. What bad can come from having all
Owens was 4 years old when her father left her family. She learned of his
death through a phone call from a relative, she said, and "I remember
crying all day."
Her mother had remarried, she said, and her stepfather would not allow her
to attend her father's funeral.
And she spent most of her life believing that the man who murdered her
father had been convicted and executed; family members insisted that was
Then 4 years ago, she said, she learned that Williams was alive and had
been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and "it literally hit me like a ton of
"It literally almost destroyed my life because of my own anger," she said.
"I was just flabbergasted. How could the man who co-founded the Crips be
nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. What in the world?"
Although she has been invited to watch the Dec. 13 execution, if it goes
forward, she plans to be at home instead.
"I don't need to go and watch another man die," she said.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
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