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September 4, 2010

UPDATE: Despite Possible Political Implications, Gov. Strickland Stops Kevin Keith’s Execution; Commutes Sentence to Life

by Stephen Littau

Bob Driehaus writing for The New York Times reports:

CINCINNATI — A death row inmate convicted of murdering a child and two adults was spared the death penalty Thursday by Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, who said there were possible problems with the evidence.

A diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, attorneys general and federal and state judges and prosecutors had rallied around the case of the inmate, Kevin Keith, 46, after his lawyers uncovered evidence they say casts doubt on his guilt.

In commuting the death sentence, Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, said that he believed it was still likely that Mr. Keith committed the murders, but that he was troubled by the likelihood that evidence uncovered since his conviction would not be presented to a court before the scheduled Sept. 15 execution.

“That would be unfortunate,” Mr. Strickland said in a statement. “This case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court. Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed.”

Gov. Ted Strickland should be applauded for doing the right thing and preventing Kevin Keith’s execution. Strickland, who is as of this posting trailing in his race for re-election against his Republican challenger John Kasich by roughly 10 points, had to know that stopping an execution of someone convicted of a particularly heinous act is a very risky proposition politically. George W. Bush is the only governor in history to commute a death row sentence in an election year and go on to win re-election. Kasich, on the other hand, has the luxury of not having to comment one way or the other (and so far his campaign hasn’t).

Neither the parole board nor SCOTUS were willing to consider the “unanswered questions” about Kevin Keith’s guilt. Keith’s life was quite literally in Gov. Strickland’s hands. And even though Gov. Strickland still believes that Keith is likely guilty of these murders, he decided to err on the side of life – life in prison but life none the less.

Keith’s legal team, though thrilled that their client’s life was spared, are not going to be completely satisfied until these questions are presented in a new trial in hopes of proving Keith’s innocence.

The article continues:

“The same compelling reasons that support Governor Strickland’s actions today,” said one of his lawyers, Rachel Troutman, “warrant a new, fair trial for Mr. Keith, including the existence of newly discovered evidence, the revelation of evidence withheld by the state, and the development of new science behind eyewitness identification, all of which point to Mr. Keith’s innocence.”

There is no excuse for the state to withhold evidence that doesn’t support the state’s case. It seems that all too often prosecutors focus too much on “winning” their cases at the expense of justice. Justice not only denied for the accused but also for the victims and their families.

There’s also no excuse for the John Kasich campaign’s silence in this case. Kasich is running to replace the sitting governor of a death penalty state. Kasich owes it to Ohio voters to explain why his opponent, the sitting governor made the right or wrong decision in this case. It’s not really enough for a candidate for governor to answer a generic question about whether s/he supports the death penalty or not when real death penalty cases with real and difficult questions exist in a state that executes the second highest number of people in the nation.

All legal issues and politics aside, the commuting of Kevin Keith’s death sentence to life is very good and welcome news.

Related Post:

Even Death Penalty Supporters Urge Ohio Gov. Strickland to Spare Kevin Keith

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  • Michael O. Powell

    Gov. Strickland’s stay of execution is an act of political bravery that is what is necessary for a reform in this country’s authoritarian law enforcement culture.

    There is a perverse political incentive for the state to sentence as many people as possible in order for politicians to be able to say in their campaigns that they’ve been “tough on crime.” Beyond putting possibly innocent people on the path to execution, this also hurts the country as a whole. The unnecessarily bloated prison budget could either, if you’re a liberal/progressive, go to social programs and education or, if you’re a libertarian, go back into the hands of the taxpayer so that they can reinvigorate the economy.

  • http://KeepingTheRepublic.org Michael Fraley

    I agree with your analysis. As a supporter of the death penalty for the most egregious crimes, I too believe the Governor was correct and took a courageous stand.

    It should be a no-brainer in these instances where evidence was withheld. What these prosecutors seem to forget is that the “rule” in “rule of law” applies to the State to perhaps an even greater degree than to the citizenry. Gov. Strickland reminded them of that.

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  • Procopius

    I am for the death penalty in principle, since I don’t trust this government as it stands in the modern era, I have to be against it in practice.

  • http://KeepingTheRepublic.org Michael Fraley

    Hmm. Ok, Procopius, that’s food for thought.

    I appreciate the distinction, because most often today, principle is completely absorbed by practice. And without principles to guide actions, then one can use whatever practices suit their own ambitions and shape the “truth” accordingly.

    But, having said that, there is some logic in modifying, or restraining, what is carried out in the name of principle, particularly when those actions are easily abused by those with no principles, and only ambition.

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