Saturday, 20 January 2007


Article published Saturday, January 20, 2007


Strickland grants 3 death-row reprieves
Governor wants clemency reviews
James J. Filiaggi

COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland yesterday delayed the first three Ohio executions scheduled under his administration, saying he needs more time to conduct "thorough and comprehensive" reviews before making life-and-death decisions on clemency.

His spokesman, Keith Dailey, said Ohioans should "absolutely not" read anything more than that into yesterday's decision, noting the Democratic governor supports the death penalty.
"Clearly, having a sufficient amount of time for a thorough and efficient review is necessary," Mr. Dailey said. "He has been governor for less than two weeks, and he felt it was important that he have a similar amount of time as what past administrations have had."

Kenneth Biros

The first execution, that of Kenneth Biros, 48, was scheduled for this Tuesday, 15 days after Mr. Strickland took office. He is now set to die on March 20 for the 1991 murder and dismemberment of a 22-year-old woman in Trumbull County. The Ohio Parole Board recently recommended by a unanimous vote that Biros not be granted clemency.
James J. Filiaggi, 41, was convicted in the 1994 fatal shooting of his 27-year-old ex-wife in Lorain.
The Ohio Supreme Court set his execution for Feb. 13, but Mr. Strickland has postponed it until April 24.
Christopher J. Newton, 38, originally set to die Feb. 27, is scheduled to follow Filiaggi exactly one month later. Convicted of strangling his prison cellmate in 2001, he has dropped all of his appeals.
The parole board has made no clemency recommendations in the Filiaggi and Newton cases.

Christopher J. Newton

Attorney General Marc Dann, who has the duty of defending Ohio's death penalty, said he respected the governor's decision.
"The governor's action does not impact the legal arguments or the merits of each case, but will give him the time to learn the facts in order to make informed decisions on whether or not to grant clemency to these three inmates," he said.
"This decision is not inconsistent with the state's legal strategy," Mr. Dann said.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, noted that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, also cited timing concerns when he delayed the first scheduled execution under his administration last year. He ultimately went on to indefinitely delay that execution after determining the inmate was not mentally competent.
"You usually don't have a string of executions when there is a change in command," Mr. Dieter said.
"The one exception would perhaps be Texas, which wouldn't have a lot of hesitation. It's more likely that governors, including [Gov. Dick Celeste in 1991] in Ohio, grant commutations on the way out so that the new governor wouldn't be faced with that."
The center provides statistical information but does not take a position on the death penalty itself.
Gov. Bob Taft issued no commutations involving death penalty cases as he left office earlier this month. He also did not interfere with the first execution of his administration, in fact the first in Ohio since 1963, on Feb. 19, 1999, a little more than a month after he took office.
Wilford Berry, like Newton, was dubbed a "volunteer" because he dropped all appeals to hasten his execution.
Mr. Taft granted outright clemency just once, commuting the death sentence of Jerome Campbell of Hamilton County to life in prison with no chance for parole after DNA testing showed blood found on his shoes placed before the jury during sentencing was not that of his victim.
The Republican governor also repeatedly delayed the execution of John Spirko while modern DNA testing continues on 24-year-old evidence.
Spirko was convicted in the 1982 murder of Betty Jane Mottinger, the postmistress in the Van Wert County village of Elgin.
The delays occur as U.S. District Court in Columbus considers a lawsuit challenging Ohio's lethal injection protocol as unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. Biros had been added as a plaintiff in that case.

Contact Jim Provance at:
or 614-221-0496.

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