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Ohio Governor Spares Death Row Prisoner, Cites Problems with Evidence

Kevin Keith, 46, on Ohio’s death row for murdering two women and a 4-year-old child, and scheduled for execution on September 15, 2010, was spared by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. In commuting the death penalty portion of Keith’s sentence on September 2, Governor Strickland stated, “This case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court.”

Commutation was the last resort for Keith, who had exhausted his state court appeals and whose petition was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Ohio Parole Board had unanimously recommended the denial of Keith’s clemency request. Before granting the commutation, Gov. Strickland listened to the appeals of a diverse group of individuals from both political parties, attorneys general, judges and prosecutors, after Keith’s attorneys uncovered evidence that they argued cast doubt on his guilt.

Defense lawyers had raised various issues, including that the assault that resulted in the murders Keith was convicted of committing was actually carried out by another man, who said he had been hired for $15,000 to carry out the crime. They also maintained that the police photo lineup was prejudicial because it included a larger picture of Keith than other suspects. No physical evidence connected Keith to the crime; his conviction was based on circumstantial evidence.

In a statement, Gov. Strickland said, “It is my view, after a thorough review of the information and evidence available to me at this time, that it is far more likely that Mr. Keith committed these murders than it is likely that he did not. Yet, despite the evidence supporting his guilt and the substantial legal review of Mr. Keith’s conviction, many legitimate questions have been raised regarding the evidence in support of the conviction and the investigation which led to it. ... Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed.”

Keith’s attorneys were pleased by the commutation but asked that the governor set him free, stating, “The same compelling reasons that support Governor Strickland’s actions today warrant a new, fair trial for Mr. Keith, including the existence of newly discovered evidence withheld by the state, and the development of new science behind eyewitness identification, all of which point to Mr. Keith’s innocence.”

Keith remains incarcerated, now serving life without parole, while his attorneys consider their strategy to obtain a new trial in an attempt to prove his innocence.

Sources: New York Times, Columbus Dispatch,

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