by Ed Lyon
As a child, Raymond Tibbetts lived a life straight out of a movie – a horror movie. He and his brothers were bounced from one foster home to another. Along their journey to adulthood, they found themselves being tied to their beds, burned, beaten, thrown down flights of stairs and starved. One of his brothers is homeless, another in prison and a third has been successful so far.
As for Raymond, 61, until recently he was a resident on Ohio’s death row.
During his trial for murdering his wife and the man with whom they were living, none of his childhood was made known to the jury as mitigating evidence. As is a usual occurrence in cases like this, through prosecutorial misconduct combined with an ineffective defense attorney, no meaningful information about Tibbett’s early life was revealed during his trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to die.
His case went through the usual post-conviction route of appeals. Eventually it reached the clemency stage, where the Ohio parole board also denied relief – even after hearing from a juror from Tibbett’s trial who later discovered the excluded mitigating evidence.
That juror, Ross Geiger, kept tabs on Tibbetts for over two decades and read about his abusive childhood on a clemency website. After the parole board rejected clemency, Geiger petitioned Governor John Kasich to grant clemency to Tibbetts to “correct the system’s mistake.”
“The system failed to provide me with the information I needed to make an accurate and fair determination,” Geiger explained. “If prosecutors had been honest and forthcoming about the horrors” of Tibbetts’ childhood, then during the trial he “would have voted for life without parole over death.” In Ohio, a single holdout vote during a death penalty sentencing hearing is all it takes to impose a sentence of life without parole.
Governor Kasich gave the case serious consideration, then in July 2018 overturned the parole board’s decision and commuted Tibbett’s sentence to life in prison without parole, citing “fundamental flaws” in the sentencing process.
“The defense’s failure to present sufficient mitigating evidence, coupled with an inaccurate description of Tibbetts’ childhood by the prosecution, essentially prevented the jury from making an informed decision about whether Tibbetts deserved the death sentence,” the governor stated.
Kasich had previously commuted the death sentence of William T. Montgomery, 52, in March 2018, changing it to life without parole; he also granted a reprieve to death row prisoner Cleveland Ramon Jackson, to give his attorneys more time to research and prepare a clemency petition.
During his two terms in office from 2011 to January 2019, Kasich granted commutations to seven prisoners on death row while allowing 15 executions to occur.
Sources: cincinnati.com, reuters.com, bbc.com
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