Monday, July 9, 2012

If Only He'd Thought So 25 Years Ago

The lead detective on the case thinks he shouldn't be executed.  The prosecutor who tried the case thinks he shouldn't be executed. At least one member of the three-judge panel that tried him and sentenced him to death thinks he shouldn't be executed.
That's not the kind of think I get to write every day.  It's a man-bites-dog story, a set of facts unusual enough that it deserves special mention and ought to carry special weight.  As it happens, I wrote that paragraph a couple of weeks ago, on the day the Ohio Parole Board issued it's recommendation to Governor Kasich in the case of John Jeffrey Eley. By a vote of 5-3, they said Eley should be killed.
But Kasich hasn't yet decided, and Gary L. van Brocklin, the prosecutor who put Eley on the row, hasn't given up. 
From his letter to the editor in Saturday's Columbus Dispatch.
The prosecutor, Gary L. van Brocklin, 
This case has haunted me for more than 24 years. Eley does not deserve to die for what I believe was Green’s crime. But not for Green, Ishan Aydah would be alive today.
. . .
I fully support clemency for Eley because, for me, it is the right thing to do. When I wrote to the Ohio Parole Board expressing my views on clemency, it was extremely difficult to do. The easier thing for me would be to say nothing at all. However, sitting on the sidelines watching this man be executed is not something I am prepared to do.
Powerful stuff.
I hope the Governor listens.
And of course he's right.  It's hard for a prosecutor to concede that he was wrong.  It's hard for him admit that he tried to arrange the murder of a man who didn't deserve to be killed.
I hope the Governor understands how hard.
I'm pleased that van Brocklin has come to see his mistake.  I'm filled with praise for his coming forward.
I hope the Governor acts.
And yet.
As the elected prosecuting attorney for Mahoning County, I prosecuted John Jeffrey Eley in 1987 for the aggravated murder of Ishan Aydah. At that time, I felt the death penalty was the appropriate response, given the facts and circumstances of the murder.
Need I mention that those "facts and circumstances" haven't changed?
Need I mention that van Brocklin thought Green the more culpable one back then?
Need I mention that van Brocklin was prepared back then to take death off the table for Eley if he'd just testify against Green?
I don't want to talk about blood on his hands.  I don't want to condemn van Brocklin.  The man has done, is doing an uncommonly (and truly difficult) decent thing.  He really does deserve praise and credit.  
And yet.
Because really, nothing has changed. Except that John Jeffrey Eley has spent the past 25 years on death row.  And if something doesn't happen, he'll be strapped down to a table and shot full of pentobarbital with the intent and effect of killing him in 17 days.
It didn't have to dome to this.
And despite the praise and credit van Brocklin deserves (and he does) and that I'm honestly giving him (and I am), despite that, he bears a fair share of responsibility - not all of it, but a fair share - for where it is.
He's not alone of course.
The cops bear some responsibility - including the lead detective who now thinks Eley should live.
The three-judge panel bears more than a bit of responsibility - including Judge Economus who now thinks Eley should live.
Green bears plenty of responsibility.
So, of course, does Jeff Eley.  Had he not killed Ishan Aydah . . . . Well, there's no getting past that one.
But van Brocklin made a knowing, conscious decision.
At that time, I felt the death penalty was the appropriate response, given the facts and circumstances of the murder.
He can't escape that.
I hope the Governor acts.
Gary L. van Brocklin hopes so, too.  Good for him for doing the right thing.
When it may be too late, though I sure hope the Governor will do the right thing, too.
And yet, you know, it didn't have to come to this.

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