Friday, November 04, 2005

And then there's John Spirko

Another case involving a strong innocence claim is that of John Spirko of Ohio, scheduled for execution Nov. 15. Today a moderate newspaper in Ohio, the Dayton Daily News, came out with a sharply worded editorial calling on Gov. Bob Taft to grant Spirko clemency.

I know that on blogs you're technically supposed to excerpt and link. But I'm breaking the rules here because I want to put the editorial in its entirety front and center:

Taft must shut down death machine
By the Dayton Daily News

Ohio's dour brick "death house" looks as much like an industrial building as part of the Lucasville prison. The building's sole purpose is to perform a one-of-a-kind chemical process.

It's the place where public employees inject lethal compounds into the arm of a criminal convict sentenced to die.

The death machine is being readied for an execution arising out of the
brutal 1982 murder of Betty Jane Mottinger. John Spirko was convicted of the crime and is set to die Nov. 15.

The problem is there's a real chance the man was wrongly convicted. Former FBI Director William Sessions put it this way in his plea that Gov. Bob Taft grant clemency: "I believe that John Spirko may very well have been unjustly convicted, and I am convinced that his trial was infected with serious enough defects that we can have no confidence that the jury reached the decision about his guilt, and ultimately his death sentence, properly."

The governor is Ohio's last line of defense against a wrongful execution.
He's received no help from other responsible officials. Attorney General Jim Petro's every move seems to be a political calculation, rather than a push to ensure the right man is on Death Row. A majority of the parole board has shown haplessness bordering on incompetence.

They all know Mr. Spirko's criminal case was plagued with gaps and
inconsistencies, but they've ignored them. The parole board's report to the governor offers no practical guidance on whether this execution might be a mistake.

All have allowed the death machine to move ahead, unimpeded, while they look away. Gov. Taft can grant clemency and commute the death penalty to life in prison — and that's exactly what he should do.

Because no scientific, forensic or physical evidence links John Spirko with the Mottinger murder. The case was based on hand-written notes of prison interviews conducted by an erratic postal inspector who was the state's star witness. The "eye witness" who supposedly placed Mr. Spirko near the crime scene was only "70 percent sure" of his account.

Prosecutors said Mr. Spirko had an accomplice. That theory later
disintegrated. Another suspect surfaced in the 1990s. The case was referred to federal authorities, but they never investigated if a man had been wrongly convicted.

John Spirko had killed before and isn't deserving of much sympathy. Still, a decent people don't impose the death penalty on such meager, feeble evidence.

When they do, they, too, end up with blood on their hands.
The Dayton Daily News not only published this editorial today -- they also made a video accompanying it with the editorial read as a voice over. I've never seen a newspaper do this before and while the production values are rather garrish, one has to commend the newspaper for its innovation. The video ends by urging people to contact the governor and demand that he grant clemency. You can watch the video by going here.

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