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September 5, 2010

Tough questions about what's next after the Keith capital commutation in Ohio

Andrew Cohen has an interesting follow-up commentary to this past week's commutation by the Governor of Ohio of the death sentence that had been facing Kevin Keith despite his claims of innocence (basics here). The commentary is titled "Death Row Reprieve: Does Ohio Also Owe Kevin Keith a New Trial?", and here is one of many interesting excerpts:

Convicted murderer Kevin Keith could look at the week's dramatic developments in his life in one of two ways. He could consider himself very lucky that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland commuted his capital sentence to life in prison without parole. Or he could consider himself still accursed that he'll likely remain in prison anyway for the rest of his natural days despite his claim that he did not murder two adults and a four-year-old child -- family members of an alleged police drug informant -- in 1994.

How do you see the glass, Mr. Keith, now that the very government that incarcerates you has expressed doubt about the evidence which put you away? Is it half-full or half-empty?...

There have been 249 capital commutations in the United States since 1976, the year the Supreme Court gave the death penalty back to the states as a sentencing option. There have been 1224 executions across the country during that time.  As of Jan. 1, 2010, there were 3,268 men and women on death row in the 35 states (and federal jurisdictions) which have capital punishment.  Since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, "130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence."  Many of these releases are the result of DNA mismatches -- an issue not present in Keith's case....

The reasons Keith's sentence was reduced relate directly to the strength of the prosecution's trial evidence against him -- and are material enough for any reasonable person to doubt whether he would have been convicted had these facts come before the original judge and jury.  It is now beyond contention that the rot here is in the core of the apple and not its skin. Just because the government can't go back and re-do every bad conviction doesn't mean it shouldn't go back and re-do the ones it can.

With the first days of the rest of his life, Keith now will have time to explore all of these topics as his lawyers continue to push for a substantive hearing or new trial.  He'll have time to read how poorly it could have gone for him had he been a prisoner seeking clemency in Texas under then-Gov. George W. Bush and his counsel, Alberto Gonzales.  He'll have time to read about how capital punishment may be on the wane in North Carolina after revelations there about the state crime lab's dishonorable work.  Or perhaps about how the capital punishment system in Pennsylvania is a mess.

Alas, there is no shortage of literature out there describing all sorts of problems in and with capital cases. Makes you wonder why commutations like the one Keith was gracefully given this past week are more rare than executions, doesn't it?

September 5, 2010 at 10:52 AM | Permalink


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Makes you wonder why any pedestrian crosses any street. Twenty times more pedestrians are killed crossing the street than by the death penalty.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 5, 2010 11:18:46 AM

Strickland's commutation was ridiculous and as I posted earlier, a slap in the face to the unanimous Parole Board, victims, and surviving victims. What amazes me is that he actually thinks that Keith is possibly going to prevail on new evidence claims. Right now, his re-election chances look slim. I wonder if he will pull a "Ryan" and pardon Keith and Broom before he leaves office if he doesn't win.

Posted by: DaveP | Sep 5, 2010 6:21:08 PM

Isn't it funny. A Dem governor expresses some metaphysical doubt about this case, and a d-bag columnist like Cohen can't talk specifics. Hey Cohen, how do you explain the shells? How about the eyewitness who had Keith pointed out to him before he was shot? And all the other evidence.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 5, 2010 9:55:29 PM

'"130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence." Many of these releases are the result of DNA mismatches -- an issue not present in Keith's case....'

17 out of more than 130, not that many really.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 6, 2010 12:55:30 PM

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