[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS., WIS., OKLA., PENN., N.C., OHIO

Rick Halperin rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Oct 21 22:30:46 UTC 2006

Oct. 21


Condemned prisoner's suicide being investigated

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is investigating convicted killer
Michael Dewayne Johnson's suicide on the day of his scheduled execution.

The Office of Inspector General, which is the investigative arm of the
prison system, is handling the investigation, TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle
Lyons said.

Investigators aren't releasing any more details of how Johnson cut his
neck and throat with a small piece of metal attached to a wooden base, she
said. Johnson killed himself while on suicide watch on death row between
15-minute observation rounds.

An autopsy on his body is being performed in Galveston County, although
results wont be available for another week or more.

Lyons said it is too early to comment whether any policies will change as
a result of Johnsons suicide. She said officials would wait for the
investigation report before evaluating procedures to determine if any
changes were needed.

(source: Waco Tribune-Herald)


Victim's widow was to watch execution----At first angered by suicide, she
says she's satisfied that 'he's still not here'

At first Trish Wetterman McLean felt cheated. But when the man convicted
of killing her husband committed suicide the day he was supposed to be
executed, she says he probably did her a favor.

"I was very angry at first," McLean said Friday, a day after condemned
prisoner Michael Johnson slashed his neck and arm with a sharp piece of
metal in his death row cell.

The suicide came about 15 hours before Johnson was to receive lethal
injection for the 1995 shooting death of Jeff Wetterman, 27, at the
family-run convenience store in Lorena, about 12 miles south of Waco.

McLean had planned to be among those to watch Johnson die Thursday evening
and found some solace in knowing he was aware she'd be present.

"We anticipated the trip for 11 years," she said. "I didn't want him to
think that we were going to forget about this. It was still a very big
deal to us. I was determined to watch him die.

"But in the end, he's still not here. And he died in a much more painful
manner than what the state would have done."

Johnson, 29, was found unresponsive in a pool of blood at 2:45 a.m. by
officers making routine checks at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas
Department of Criminal Justice. 15 minutes earlier, he was talking to
prison staff while waiting for breakfast.

Johnson was taken to a hospital in Livingston, where he was pronounced
dead about an hour after he was found.

The Houston Chronicle reported in Friday's editions that Johnson managed
to scrawl on the wall "I did not shoot him" in his own blood.

Under corrections department procedures, officers begin making 15-minute
checks on the prisoner within 36 hours of a scheduled execution. The
inmate's cell also is searched every 72 hours for contraband.

An investigation by the agency's Office of Inspector General probably
would take several weeks, prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.
Authorities also were awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Johnson's lawyer said he always found the inmate upbeat. The Waco
Tribune-Herald, however, reported Friday that Johnson's mother, Patricia,
said he told his sister during a death row visit Wednesday that he was
thinking of killing himself.

McLean said 2 prison officials came to her home Thursday to offer an

"All they could tell us was what they knew, that there was a breakdown and
how sorry they were," she said.

Johnson, who insisted he was innocent of shooting McLean's husband, had
appeals pending and his lawyer was working on last-day appeals he planned
to file in the courts.

Johnson was 18 at the time of the crime and blamed the shooting on David
Vest, who testified against him. The pair were in a stolen car in
September 1995, were running low on gas and pulled into the store where
they had no money to pay for the $24 worth of fuel. Wetterman came over to
help them at the pump and was shot in the face.

"The doctors looked to me to make the decision to turn off the life
support," McLean said Friday. "That wasn't a decision I was ready to make.
I was 22 years old and married 3 weeks.

"I was writing thank-you notes for wedding gifts and funeral
acknowledgments at the same time."

(source: Associated Press)


Homicide rate on track to be worst in a decade----Evacuees play large role
in the rise, police say

With more than 300 homicides since January, Houston is on pace to record
nearly 400 slayings for the year - which would be the highest number of
killings the city has seen in more than a decade.

As of Oct. 16, the city had recorded 316 homicides, up 25 % from the 252
slayings at this time last year. The Houston Police Department said an
uptick in homicides by Hurricane Katrina evacuees has contributed to that

"We recognize that the homicide rate is up as far as raw numbers and as
well as percentages relative to the population,'' said Capt. Dwayne Ready.
"We also recognize that Katrina evacuees continue to have an impact on the
murder rate.''

Though overall crime is slightly down for the year, the police department
has had a difficult time reining in the rising homicide rate. But it's
still not time to panic, police said.

"The homicide rate has been much higher in years past, especially the
1980s,'' Ready said. "Even if the number ... for 2006 hits 400 it's not a
bleak picture for Houston.''

The city's homicide rate declined throughout the 1990s. In 1991 there were
608 homicides. The rate steadily dropped from 465 in 1992, to 254 in 1998
- a far cry from 1981, the year the city was dubbed the murder capital of
the United States when it tallied 701 homicides.

65 Katrina-related slayings

The continuing cycle of violence among evacuees appears to be one of the
biggest contributors to the city's homicide rate, police said.

Authorities first spotted increases in 2005. By year's end, the city had
recorded 334 homicides.

During the previous 10 years, homicide rates never topped the 316 slayings
in 1995.

"The Katrina population has certainly impacted the murder rate,'' said
Houston Police spokesman John Cannon.

One recent example was Aug. 28, when police said evacuee James Hubbard,
26, was gunned down as he stood at a cashier's window in southwest

Police soon learned that the man accused of shooting him, Ralph Michael
Anderson, 23, also was from New Orleans. On Wednesday, police arrested
Anderson in Tyler; he has been charged with murder.

Hubbard's slaying was the 65th in 2006 classified as Katrina-related,
meaning either the victim, suspect or both evacuated to Houston after

In trying to offer a snapshot of how homicides in Houston have increased,
police compared a 13-month span starting about a year before the arrival
of Katrina evacuees to the past 13 months.

Between Sept. 1, 2004, and Oct. 16, 2005, there were 344 homicides in
Houston. From Sept. 1, 2005, through Oct. 16, there were a total of 445
slayings, 83 involving Katrina evacuees, an increase of roughly 29 %.

The city of Houston has about 2.2 million residents, Cannon said.

Less than 2 months ago, about 1,700 residents of west Houston attended a
public meeting to express concern about the impact of evacuees on crime in

Wider effects unknown

Mayor Bill White repeated his position that all "able-bodied'' evacuees
should be working and that the city would continue to arrest lawbreakers.

Police have not kept records of how the estimated 150,000 Katrina evacuees
have affected crime rates other than homicide.

Per capita crime, defined as the number of crimes per 100,000 residents,
has decreased in the city, with the violent crime rate down 3 % this year.

"We may attempt to compare the figures on these crimes in November or
December,'' Cannon said.

"A year ago the majority of evacuees were just getting settled, so it's
not yet effective to compare the statistics.''

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Bayer found guilty of capital murder

Byron Trent Bayer was found guilty by a jury Friday night of capital
murder in connection with the strangulation death of his mother 2 years

The panel deliberated almost seven hours before returning the verdict,
ending a 3-week trial in the 354th District Court.

As the Hunt County District Attorney's Office had waived the death penalty
in the case, Bayer received an automatic sentence of life in prison.

In a statement, District Attorney F. Duncan Thomas said he was pleased
with the jury's decision.

"Mr. Bayer is lucky that his own family asked us to waive the death
penalty so that a death sentence was not an option," Thomas said.

Bayer, 42, will have to spend 40 years in prison before he can be
considered for parole.

Bayer's lead defense attorney, Jack Paris, expressed disappointment with
the outcome.

"We are very aware the jury spent three hard weeks listening to the
evidence, then spent almost 7 hours reviewing the evidence and
deliberating," Paris said. "We know they did their very best and we thank
them for all that effort, not withstanding our disappointment."

Byron Bayer had pleaded not guilty to 1 count of capital murder involving
the strangulation death of Patsy Bayer, 63, at the home they shared in the
6500 block of Sayle Street.

Prosecutors alleged Bayer strangled Patsy Bayer with electrical cords,
stole his mother's Chevrolet Tahoe and used her debit card before he was
caught in the sport utility vehicle near a local motel early on the
morning of Oct. 9, 2004.

During closing arguments Friday afternoon, Paris said the evidence and
testimony revealed detectives felt his client was the only suspect within
an hour of when Patsy Bayer's body was discovered.

"Before they even began working the crime scene, the investigation focused
on one person," Paris said.

He said Bayer had permission to use the Tahoe and the debit card, noting
how Bayer depended on his mother for his livelihood and therefore did not
have a motive to kill her.

"Who would have benefited from the death of Patsy Bayer? It was not
Trent," Paris said.

Assistant District Attorney Nobie Walker told the jury that the
prosecution's case was largely circumstantial, but said blood evidence at
the scene contained both Byron and Patsy Bayer's DNA.

As for a motive, Walker said Patsy Bayer was planning on kicking her son
out of the house.

"Everyone did have their hand out, but the only one who stood to lose
anything was the defendant," Walker said. "He took the cords, he wrapped
them around her neck and he strangled her."

The jury received the case at around 2 p.m. and returned with a verdict at
approximately 8:45 p.m. Friday.

Thomas commended Walker and Assistant District Attorney Carol Day Moss for
their job in prosecuting the case, as well as the Greenville Police
Department for investigation which led to Bayer's arrest.

(source: Greenville Herald-Banner)


Blair's attorney files motion on new DNA evidence

Philip Wischkaemper, an attorney for Michael Blair who was convicted in
1994 for murdering 7-year-old Ashley Estell in 1993, said he has obtained
new DNA evidence that he hopes will give the case a "fresh new look."

According to Collin County court records, attorneys Wischkaemper, Roy E.
Greenwood and Stephen Miller filed a petitioner's motion for additional
court findings in the 366th District Court claiming that new DNA
technology not available at the time of the trial in 1994 shows Blair
wasn't responsible for Estell's death.

Estell disappeared from a Plano soccer field on Sept. 4, 1993, while her
parents, Richard and Diana Estell were watching her older brother play
soccer on an adjacent field. Her body was found beside a rural road 6
miles away from the soccer field the following day.

Blair was charged with Estell's murder and sentenced to death in September
1994 by a Midland jury. A date for his execution has not been set.

The motion filed in the Collin County District Clerk's Office claims
Orchid Cellmark, of Dallas, conducted an advanced "Y-Chromosome Short
Tandem Repeat methodology" on several pieces of evidence from the
13-year-old murder case, including fingernail clippings taken from
Estell's left and right hands, methodology that wasn't available until

According to a lab report included with the motion, Orchid Cellmark
concludes the DNA taken from the clippings are "a mixture of at least 2
males" and that "Michael Blair ... and any of his patrilineal relatives
are excluded as possible contributors to the mixture."

The motion also states that hair samples obtained from Estell's body and
Blair's vehicle were tested by "advanced, mitochondrial DNA testing" and
show they did not come from Estell or Blair.

Collin County spokeswoman Leigh Hornsby said officials from the Collin
County District Attorney's Office are awaiting the recommendation of 366th
District Court Judge Nathan White's ruling on the matter to the Criminal
Courts of Appeals in Austin. She said the deadline for his recommendation
is Dec. 27.

She also said the DA's office is reviewing the new motion, but could not
comment on any specific evidence involved in the case.

Wischkaemper said the new DNA evidence was obtained from the Innocence
Project, a non-profit legal clinic based at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School
of Law in New York, N.Y., that strives to use DNA testing of evidence and
scientific proof to overturn sentences and punishments against the wrongly
convicted. According to their Web site, "most of our clients are poor,
forgotten and have used up all of their legal avenues for relief."

Wischkaemper said he hopes the new evidence will either grant Blair a new
trial or spark someone's curiosity from a law enforcement perspective.

"We hope to look for another trial, which is probably the best we can hope
for from the CCDA," Wischkaemper said. "It's up to the CCDA to evaluate
the case, but I think law enforcement would at least be curious about
who's DNA it is and try to eliminate family members and try to locate
who's it is."

Wischkaemper said he could not speculate on who he thinks the unidentified
DNA belongs to, but said investigators initially had other suspects in the
case including a "primary suspect" who is a registered sex offender. He
said so far, investigators have been unable to find his DNA.

Attempts were made to reach the Plano Police Department, but phone calls
were not returned as of presstime.

(source: McKinney Courier-Gazette)


Locals favor death penalty----Voters will be asked if they favor the death
penalty on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Death penalty proponents often cite a quotation from the Code of Hammurabi
-- and also the Old Testament: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Critics of the death penalty counter that "two wrongs don't make a right."

Residents of Green and Lafayette counties surveyed by the Times last week
strongly support Hammurabi's point of view.

All Wisconsin voters can decide on which side of the debate they stand on
Nov. 7, when they'll have the opportunity to vote on an advisory
referendum concerning whether the state should consider bringing back the
death penalty.

Wisconsin hasn't had capital punishment since 1853.

The non-binding question state lawmakers are posing to voters reads:
"Should the death penalty be enacted in the State of Wisconsin for cases
involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide,
if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?"

Locally, the response is overwhelmingly "yes."

In an informal Times survey of 20 residents, 85 % (17 residents) said they
favor the death penalty. Ten of those 17 residents added they support the
death penalty only in the most extreme circumstances, such as murder or
rape cases.

"I believe in the death penalty for really violent crimes," Coleen Soddy,
58, Browntown, said, "like if somebody kills somebody else, then I don't
think they have the right to live either. But if (the death) is
accidental, that's another issue."

"If you do wrong, you do wrong," Bill Saunders, 85, Brodhead, said. "(The
crime) should be paid for."

"I guess I always thought it was created for a reason," Miranda Christen,
28, Monroe, stated. "If our forefathers thought we should have it, then I
do too."

One man, who asked not to be named, said he views it as if a murderer is
put to death, that person can't hurt anyone else again.

"There's a lot of people out there who need to be put to death for a lot
of reasons," John Calow, 38, Monroe, said. "But we should put their organs
to use, too, because there are a lot of other people out there, good
people, who are dying."

Only 15 % (3 residents) stated they oppose the resurrection of the death
penalty in Wisconsin.

"I'd just as soon not see the death penalty," John Reese of Monroe said.
"There's always a chance of a mistake. It's (a wrongful conviction, not
execution) been done before. Even DNA (evidence) can have mistakes."

Echoing Reese, Tricia Janssen, 36, New Glarus, said, "I'm not for it,
mainly because if we are wrong, it leaves open the possibility of putting
someone innocent to death."

"I'm not sure it deters anything," Ken Sedbrook, 70, Juda, added.
"Besides, they say, 'Thou shalt not kill.'"

Of the 20 residents surveyed, 12 were women and 8 were men.

6 of the 8 men surveyed supported the death penalty while 2 were against
it. 11 of the women surveyed said they support capital punishment and 1
said she was opposed.

According to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, 12 states
and the District of Columbia do not have the death penalty. Those states
are: Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota,
North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The remaining 38 states, as well as the U.S. government and U.S. military,
allow the death penalty. New York's death penalty statute was declared
unconstitutional in 2004, but it was never repealed.

(source: The Monroe Times)


THE INNOCENT MAN: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town

John Grisham----Doubleday-----True Crime

ISBN-10: 0385517238-------ISBN-13: 9780385517232

Fans of John Grisham know what to expect when his latest effort lands on
bookstore shelves. Unique plot twists, evil villains, sympathetic heroes
and a page-turning plot are the cornerstones of Grisham's work. THE
INNOCENT MAN, his newest book, has all of these components in spades with
one additional element: it is a true story. His 1st work of nonfiction
will fascinate and frustrate readers as they ponder an American legal
system run amuck. This is Grisham's 19th book, and in some respects it may
be his most important. Fictional characters in fictional courtrooms may
cause readers to think briefly about our legal system. THE INNOCENT MAN
forces readers to take a probing look at and ask some serious questions
about a legal system that, in important criminal cases, appears to be
malfunctioning in every corner of our nation.

While THE INNOCENT MAN ostensibly is the story of Ron Williamson, who
spent 12 years on Oklahoma's death row after having been convicted of a
murder he did not commit, the book is more than Williamson's heartrending
tale. Co-defendant Dennis Fritz was wrongfully convicted of murder but
sentenced to life in prison. Along with Williamson he was ultimately
exonerated by DNA evidence. Two other inmates, Tommy Ward and Karl
Fontenot, whose cases were interwoven with Williamson and Fritz, remain
imprisoned in Oklahoma serving life sentences despite substantial evidence
of actual innocence.

Ada, Oklahoma, was the venue for the outrageous events leading to the
miscarriage of justice chronicled in this book. In 1982, that community
was rocked by the brutal sexual molestation and murder of Debra Sue
Carter. From the outset, the investigation was poorly handled by law
enforcement officials, who incorrectly assumed that two individuals were
involved in the crime. Promising leads were not investigated because
police attempted to establish a case against Williamson and Fritz instead.
Grisham records in vivid and excruciating detail how police hid evidence
and ignored constitutional safeguards in their zeal to obtain convictions
in the case. Sadly, they were ultimately joined in their effort by
prosecutors and judges.

One difference between Grisham's traditional works of fiction and the
factual accounting of THE INNOCENT MAN is his hero, Ron Williamson,
wrongfully convicted of Carter's murder. Williamson is not the sympathetic
character one finds in many of Grisham's novels. He starred as a high
school athlete in baseball and was selected by the Oakland Athletics in
the 1971 Major League draft. His professional baseball career never
achieved the promise displayed by his youthful potential, and he returned
home to lead a life dampened by divorce, drugs, alcohol and small-time
crime. Burdened by mental illness, his attitude contributed in many
respects to his conviction. But Grisham's portrayal makes perfectly clear
that Williamson's behavior in no way justified the outrageous actions of
law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.

It is perhaps one of the ironies of the law that while lawyers and judges
failed Williamson, it would be others in those same professions who
rescued him only five days before he was scheduled to be executed from
imposition of his sentence of death. Lawyers from the Oklahoma death
penalty assistance program and a courageous federal judge ultimately
secured a new trial for Williamson. During the course of the investigation
and preparation for that trial, Williamson underwent DNA examinations that
would establish his innocence. It was one of the first big DNA
exonerations in American courts.

THE INNOCENT MAN is not a book that Grisham planned to write. Speaking
last month to University of Virginia law students, he described how he
first came upon Williamson's story when he read an obituary in The New
York Times. The headline of the death notice read, "Ronald Williamson,
freed from death row, dies at age of 51." That simple sentence stirred
Grisham's interest: "After reading the entire obituary, I knew it had the
makings of a much longer story." He followed up with interviews and has
written a brilliant documentation of how innocent defendants are sentenced
to prison far too often in America. His research and writing have caused
him to take a long hard look at justice in our nation: "Even if you
support the death penalty, you cannot support the death penalty system as
it stands in the U.S. My one hope is that people realize this system we
have is simply too unfair to continue."

2 of America's greatest courtroom novelists are John Grisham and Scott
Turow, who have written about murder and death in our halls of justice.
How ironic that both have begun now to speak out about the injustice of
capital punishment. Grisham does so in a voice loud and clear and through
a book that fully explains why the nation needs to reexamine the process
by which we sentence criminals to be executed.

(source: The Book Reporter)


Nun speaks on eliminating death penalty

The topic was intense, but Sister Helen Prejean captivated her audience
with humor and compelling anecdotes while conveying her passionate belief
in her cause: eliminating the death penalty.

Its difficult at times to believe that this lively speaker who punctuates
her words with gestures has also walked to the death chamber with men who
society has thrown away because of their crimes.

Prejean, a Sister of St. Joseph of Medaille, spoke to 200 people Friday
night at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Newtown Township, where many
parishioners are involved in the Bucks County Committee Against the Death

The author of "Dead Man Walking," which later became an Oscar-winning
movie starring Susan Sarandon, Prejean talked about her experience with
Patrick Sonnier, a convicted killer who was executed in Louisiana for the
murders of a teenage couple.

Sonnier's brother is serving 2 life sentences for the same crime. Prejean
stressed the irony of the fact that Patrick Sonnier was executed while his
brother was the one who actually committed the murders.

"Patrick told me he didn't want me to watch his execution because it would
mark me for life. I said I didn't know how it would affect me, but he
would not die alone. I would be a witness to his death," the nun said.

She has since walked with several other men from their cells to the
execution chamber, believing, she said, that even those whom society
considers "animals" are human beings.

Prejeans objections to the death penalty are numerous, but her main
concern is that most people on death row are there because of poverty,
lack of choices and lack of education. She said that 80 % of the people on
death row are in the Southern states, mostly people of color.

She also cited at least one case in which a man who proclaimed his
innocence to the end was posthumously cleared because a cellmate, who
testified that the man confessed to murder, later recanted his story.

That incident led to Prejean's 2nd book, "The Death of Innocents."

"I don't condone what they do. I know about their crimes. But look at the
Amish. They stand out across the world [after the recent shootings of 5
little girls in a one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster]. "They said, 'We must
not return evil for evil.'"

Prejean also spoke for the victims of heinous crimes, suggesting that the
faithful hold annual Masses to pray for healing for themselves and their
families. She likened crime victims and perpetrators as two arms of the
cross that one day might be brought together to heal.

Sister Jean Liston, a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart, the director of
pastoral service at St. Andrew and a member of the committee against the
death penalty, said that she invited Prejean to speak at the parish
because she was encouraged by an increasing groundswell of opposition to
the death penalty.

"There's more and more talk about how senseless it really is to kill
somebody," Liston said.

Parishioner Mai Pham, who serves the parish as director of adult faith
formation, said that Prejean's talk reminded her that Jesus was also an
innocent man executed by the state.

"I see opposition to the death penalty as a seamless progression to
appreciating all life, from beginning to end," Pham said.

(source: PhillyBurbs.com)


N.C. Lawyer Ordered to Take Psych Exam After Courtroom Utterance

A testy exchange between a North Carolina Superior Court judge and a
lawyer has netted the attorney 2 days in jail and the temporary loss of
his law license.

Judge Michael Helms also sentenced Raymond Marshall to submit to a
psychologist's examination and to perform 70 hours of community service
for the contempt of court violation.

Marshall cannot practice law for 30 days, but his license may be returned
sooner if he performs the community service, Helms said.

An outburst in court by Marshall was the culmination of a dispute that
began about a month ago, when one of Marshall's clients appeared before
the judge on an assault charge -- the third time the case was brought to a

Helms and Marshall clashed several times during the legal process, and
Marshall filed a motion Sept. 29 seeking Helms' removal from the case,
accusing the judge of intimidation.

On Oct. 4, the 1st day of the latest trial, Helms stopped Marshall during
the questioning of one of the witnesses.

Marshall said "Lord," reared back in his chair with outstretched arms,
cast his eyes upward and turned to the audience, Helms said.

"How am I supposed to take that?" Helms said Thursday as he penalized the
lawyer. "If the court does not get the respect from members of the bar, we
can't have the respect from clients, and then we have anarchy."

Marshall, who is also a minister, said the remark was the beginning of a
prayer. He apologized to Helms and said he did not intend to be
disrespectful or for his remark to be heard by others.

"When you're involved in trial and the motors are running ... there are
times when you feel you need strength and my strength comes from God,"
Marshall said.

Attorneys at Thursday's hearing had mixed feelings about the ruling.
District Attorney Tom Keith said the judgment was appropriate.

"There are rules of court we must comply with whether we think the judge
is liberal, conservative, tough or easy, so you don't pick a fight with
him regardless of how big you think your ego is," he said. "Ray violated
the rules."

(source: Associated Press)


Condemned mans fate passed to Tafts successor

The execution of John G. Spirko Jr., who was convicted of killing a
postmistress in 1982, was delayed for a 5th time.

Whether condemned killer John G. Spirko Jr. is executed or exonerated, it
will be on the watch of a new governor and attorney general.

Gov. Bob Taft yesterday passed on the hot-button Spirko case to his
successor by approving a 5th execution reprieve for the man convicted of
killing northwestern Ohio postmistress Betty Jane Mottinger.

Spirkos lethal injection, which was scheduled for Nov. 29, was moved to
April 17, 2007, to allow additional time for DNA testing.

"It is my hope that the additional time permits the completion of the DNA
testing and analysis agreed upon by the attorney general and Mr. Spirkos
counsel," Taft said in a statement.

By the time of the new execution date, Taft will be a private citizen
after 8 years in office. During that time, 23 men were executed with Tafts
concurrence. He granted one clemency.

He will be replaced by either Democrat Ted Strickland or Republican J.
Kenneth Blackwell. Both gubernatorial candidates support the death
penalty, although Strickland, a psychologist who formerly worked at the
prison were executions take place, has indicated he would carefully
examine each clemency request.

Attorney General Jim Petro, who requested the reprieve, also will be gone
beginning in January. He will be succeeded by either Republican Betty D.
Montgomery or Democrat Marc Dann.

Spirko, 60, has been on death row for more than two decades. But
controversy about the old case escalated in the past 2 years, with his
attorneys aggressively proclaiming his innocence even though his
conviction has been upheld by courts at all levels.

The Ohio Parole Board has twice voted 6-3 against a clemency
recommendation. However, three dissenting members called for a reprieve if
"there is even the slightest possibility that errors were made in a
conviction where the sentence is death."

Spirko was convicted and sentenced to death for Mottingers abduction and
fatal stabbing on Aug. 9, 1982. Her decomposed body was found in a bean
field 6 weeks later.

Spirkos attorneys, who say he is innocent, requested extensive DNA testing
of the tarp used to wrap Mottingers body, hairs attached to the duct tape,
100 cigarette butts and rags found in a nearby farm field.

(source: Columbus Dispatch)


Gov. Taft delays Spirko execution

John Spirko's date with death has been postponed until April 17, putting
his fate in the hands of DNA testing and possibly Ohio's next governor.

Gov. Bob Taft notified Spirko's attorneys yesterday that he has agreed to
a fifth delay in his execution while testing continues on 24-year-old

"It is my hope that the additional time permits the completion of the DNA
testing and analysis agreed upon by the attorney general and Mr. Spirko's
counsel," said Mr. Taft.

Spirko, a 60-year-old Toledo native, was originally scheduled to be
executed 2 years ago. His most recent execution date was Nov. 29, 2006. He
remains on Ohio's death row for the 1984 kidnapping and brutal stabbing of
Betty Jane Mottinger, postmaster in the tiny Van Wert County village of

Unless the DNA test results or a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality
of the lethal injection process makes the decision for him, Mr. Taft's
successor, either Ted Strickland or Ken Blackwell, would decide Spirko's

Spirko's lawyers hope DNA results from testing on the paint tarp/theater
curtain that shrouded Mrs. Mottinger's body as well as other evidence will
match someone in a national database or someone on a list of other
potential suspects they have provided.

At the least, they hope a complete lack of a match with Spirko will shed
doubt on his guilt.

While agreeing to the testing, the state has maintained that a match with
someone else would not necessarily exonerate Spirko.

The prosecution's theory has been that he didn't act alone, although no
conspirator has ever been tried.

(source: Toledo Blade)


Daily Poll: Death penalty no block to murders

Does the death penalty prevent murders?

Total votes: 910

Yes 35.9 %

No 59.2 %

Unsure 4.9 %

(source: Canton Repository)

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