Saturday, 20 January 2007

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland grants execution reprieves

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland grants execution reprieves to Kenneth Biros, James Filiaggi and Christopher Newton: Reginald Fields has this coverage in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, entitled "3 Ohio executions on hold; Strickland doesn't want to make hasty decisions." The Cincinnati Enquirer has this. Toledo Blade here. Columbus Dispatch here. Lorain Morning Journal here. Youngstown Vindicator here. Warren Tribune-Chronicle here. Variations of this AP story were carried by several news outlets. Ohio Public Radio has this audio report (1:23).

Plain Dealer excerpts:
...The governor offered the reprieves to give himself more time to consider clemency requests. Kenneth Biros, scheduled for execution on Tuesday, has a new execution date of March 20. Filiaggi's was moved to April 24. And Christopher Newton's date changed from Feb. 27 to May 24.

Strickland took office 12 days ago. He said he just has not had enough time to consider Biros' request for his death sentence to be commuted to life in prison. The governor figures he will need more time for Filiaggi and Newton, too.

Compounding the issue for Strickland -- aside from the fact that he is struggling morally with the death penalty -- is a pending lawsuit in which seven death-row inmates are arguing the lethal injection process violates their rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

"I find myself confronted with two separate sets of circumstances in a compressed time period," Strickland said earlier this week. "I certainly do not feel very comfortable at this point."

Strickland said he considered a range of options, from allowing the executions to proceed as planned to calling for a moratorium.

..."This has the effect of guaranteeing that no one in Ohio will face a last- minute execution in Ohio," said Greg Meyers, of the public defender's office. "It teaches us that we have a governor who is taking very seriously the question of clemency."

Meyers is arguing the lethal injection case against the state.

Attorney General Marc Dann, who is fighting to uphold the death penalty, issued a statement saying he respected the governor's decision and that it will not affect the state's legal strategy.

Dann, coincidentally, on Thursday said he still wants a review of the death penalty to test his concerns that the penalty is not applied proportionally across racial, socio-economic and age boundaries. He must juxtapose that view with his duty to seek timely executions.

"My job is to enforce the law," he said. "But the bigger picture is how do we make sure the law holds up evenly for everybody.

...In Ohio, conflicting decisions between the district and appeals courts have meant some inmates involved in the lethal-injection lawsuit, like Lake County's Jeffrey Lundgren, have died before getting their day in court. Others, meanwhile, have been allowed to live.

Strickland doesn't want such blood on his hands and signaled that he would ideally like to wait until the court action is resolved before allowing any more executions.

"I think it would be unfortunate for someone to be executed one day and then the courts decide another day that the method of execution was unconstitutional," he said this week.

Biros is a plaintiff in the lethal-injection lawsuit - known as the Cooey case, named after death-row inmate Richard Cooey, who originally brought the suit.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is considering whether that suit was legally filed and can proceed forward. If it does, arguments could take place this spring.

Before Strickland's directive, a district court judge had stopped Biros' execution, and an appeals court is still considering an appeal filed last week by Attorney General Dann. Strickland had hoped the appeals court would make a ruling so that he might not have to.

If the appeals court had upheld the stay, Strickland could have remained silent at least for a few more weeks until Filiaggi was due up. If it had reversed the lower court, the governor would have been forced to make a decision on Biros by Tuesday.

Filiaggi has not requested to join the lethal-injection lawsuit and, barring clemency, could become the first inmate executed under Strickland. ...full article

Blade excerpts:
...[Strickland] 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."

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."

...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. ...full article
Enquirer excerpts:
...Spokesman Keith Dailey said the delays are bureaucratic in nature and have nothing to do with Strickland's personal views on capital punishment.

...The Ohio Catholic Conference's Jim Tobin praised Strickland for what he called his "conscientious actions."

"We would hope at the same time he would also try to look at the whole death penalty system," he said. ...
full article
Vindicator excerpts:
...The sister of murder victim Tami Engstrom says she was crushed to learn that Gov. Ted Strickland delayed the Tuesday execution of her sister's killer, Kenneth Biros. But Debi Heiss of Hubbard added that the personal phone call she received from the governor Friday has convinced her that Biros will die on his new execution date, March 20.
After she experienced a few moments of grief, she sensed that the governor understood her pain.

"I know he felt terrible," Heiss said. "He could have had an assistant call. It was very personal. It touched my heart."

...Heiss said she also appreciated calls from state Attorney General Marc Dann and Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins.

"We have to sit back and let him [Strickland] do his study," she said. "Kenneth Biros will not live. He will be cast back to hell, where he came from," Heiss said. ...full article.

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