There's a subject line I didn't think I'd be writing this month.
But this afternoon, Governor Ted Strickland (I'm praising him, so I use his full name) commuted Kevin Keith's death sentence. Rejecting the unanimous recommendation of the Parole Board. Here's the official statement his office released.
"Kevin Keith was convicted, by a jury, of callously murdering three people-including a four-year old child-and shooting three others, including two young children. Since the time of his arrest more than 16 years ago, Mr. Keith has maintained his innocence, insisting that someone else committed the murders.
"Mr. Keith's conviction has been repeatedly reviewed and upheld by Ohio and federal courts at the trial and appellate level. The Ohio Parole Board recommended against clemency in this case. There is evidence which links him to the crimes that, while circumstantial, is not otherwise well explained. 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. In particular, Mr. Keith's conviction relied upon the linking of certain eyewitness testimony with certain forensic evidence about which important questions have been raised. I also find the absence of a full investigation of other credible suspects troubling.
"Clearly, the careful exercise of a governor's executive clemency authority is appropriate in a case like this one, given the real and unanswered questions surrounding the murders for which Mr. Keith was convicted. Mr. Keith still has appellate legal proceedings pending which, in theory, could ultimately result in his conviction being overturned altogether. But the pending legal proceedings may never result in a full reexamination of his case, including an investigation of alternate suspects, by law enforcement authorities and/or the courts. That would be unfortunate--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. I have decided, at this time, to commute Mr. Keith's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Should further evidence justify my doing so, I am prepared to review this matter again for possible further action."So, it's LWOP until further notice. But with the possibility of further notice.
And maybe it's less of a fluke than it seems to me. As Alan Johnson writes in the Columbus Dispatch,
It was the second time in the last three murder cases set for execution that the governor spared the life of the convicted killer. He spared the life of Richard Nields in June, but allowed Roderick Davie to be executed in August.
It was also the second time Strickland rebuffed the parole board's recommendation in a capital case. He allowed the execution of Jason Getsy to go forward in August 2009 even though the board voted to spare his life.
I may have to start respecting the guy.