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November 15, 2010

Out-going Ohio Gov Ted Strickland commutes death sentence on eve of execution

The Columbus Dispatch has this breaking news, headlined "Strickland spares killer of child from execution."  Here are the details:

In the last death penalty case he will face as governor, Ted Strickland this morning spared the life of convicted killer Sidney Cornwell of Mahoning County. Cornwell was scheduled to be executed at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville. He shot to death 3-year-old Jessica Bellew on the porch of her home in 1996.

Strickland said while there is "absolutely no doubt that Mr. Cornwell is guilty of the crime of aggravated murder -- and he has admitted that," he determined that the death penalty was not appropriate given mitigating circumstances that were not presented at the time of sentencing.

Strickland noted that Cornwell suffers from a genetic disorder known as Klinefelter's syndrome, which impacts both body and mind, a fact unknown to both the trial judge and jury.  "Because the trial jury and sentencing judge did not have information at the time of sentencing about Mr. Cornwell's Klinefelter's syndrome, I have concluded that it would be inappropriate to proceed with the death penalty in this case. There can be no doubt that Mr. Cornwell's conduct still necessitates severe punishment.  Accordingly, I have decided to commute his sentence to a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole."

Governor Strickland's full statement in support of this sentence commutation can be found at this link.  Notably, the statement cites dissenting two opinions, one from a one member of the parole board and one from a member of the Sixth Circuit panel, in support of the decision to grant clemency.  Among other stories, this clemency reveals the potential impact of authoring dissenting opinions in a variety of contexts.  

As my post title hints, I think it is fair to suggest that Governor Strickland, who presided over a record 17 execution during his single term in office, might not have granted this clemency had he been re-elected and was looking forward to governing the state for another four years.  But with those kinds of concerns not present following his close loss to new incoming Ohio Governor John Kasich, Strickland may have felt more free to close with a high-profile capital commutation.

November 15, 2010 at 10:58 AM | Permalink


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Once again Strickland ignores a 7-1 recommendation to deny commutation from his Parole Board. The vote at the Sixth Circuit was 2-1 and there is nothing that suggests any judge on the court wanted to rehear it. SCOTUS denied cert without comment. I always thought a solid majority carried the day. I guess that does not matter to Strickland.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 15, 2010 12:00:39 PM

Kudos for the Gov !!!!!

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Nov 15, 2010 12:20:34 PM

Strickland has done a fine job of granting clemency to the wrong people. Keith and Cornwell are both obviously guilty child killers. Yes, Keith too. Even Strickland seemed to concede this. They were undeserving of mercy, both by the facts of the case and the recommendation of the board of pardons and parole. Just a year earlier he passed on clemency for Jason Getsy, a viscous killer no doubt, but also the result of totally arbitrary sentencing. I have never been happier Kasich will take over in January.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 15, 2010 1:21:29 PM

Strickland always cites the dissenting opinions when he grants clemency. Almost half of the Sixth Circuit wanted to give Jason Getsy a new sentencing phase and the Ohio Parole Board agreed 5-2. Strickland let Getsy die. I know every case cannot be controlled by mathematics, but he has a curious way of determining a fair result.

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 15, 2010 1:57:40 PM

"Just a year earlier he passed on clemency for Jason Getsy, a vicious killer no doubt, but also the result of totally arbitrary sentencing."

There was nothing arbitrary about Getsy's sentencing. He was a hired hit man who thoroughly deserved his sentence. The fact that the hiror (tried before a different jury without the evidence of Getsy's statement) could not be convicted of capital murder does not require that we let Getsy off with less than he deserves.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Nov 15, 2010 6:21:39 PM

Strickland is a typical Dem. Deep down, most Dems have a soft spot for criminals. The problem, for them, is that there are usually harsh electoral consequences for letting that soft spot show. Now that Strickland has been rejected by the voters, he's free to let his criminal coddling heart show.

The poor baby had an extra chromosome. So he has an excuse for killing a 3 year old. Only a silly Democrat, predisposed to coddle criminals could buy that one.

Good riddance.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 15, 2010 7:46:39 PM

This is the first time I have ever heard of an inmate complaining about having large breasts and being ridiculed when he was younger. Is that a non-statutory mitigating factor?

Posted by: DaveP | Nov 15, 2010 8:30:47 PM

I'm familiar with the case but if the board's recommendation, the dissent of almost half of the circuit court and arbitrary sentencing should be taken into account then he was far more deserving than Cornwell.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Nov 15, 2010 10:38:02 PM

Au contraire, Mike. Since when is a murderer somehow deserving of misguided lenience given to a cohort? The bottom line, it seems to me, is that "arbitrary" in this context cannot simply be divined by looking at different results.

And pointing to the judges on the Sixth Circuit isn't wise either. That a bunch of idiot judges chose to blow off their duty to the law shouldnt move the needle at all. The bottom line is that there is zero basis for their view (i.e., that if one murderer-accomplice gets life, then as a matter of constitutional law, the other one cannot be sentenced to death), and even less than zero on an AEDPA case. In fact, these judges clowned themselves and showed themselves to be biased hacks who will tip the scales for capital murderers. Nothing written by any of these buffoons should be taken seriously. They were willing to show to all the world just how dumb they are, and they deserve nothing but ridicule.

By the way, if any of the idiot judges or their clerks happen to read this, I write this with the utmost of respect . . . . uh, not.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 16, 2010 12:25:23 AM

Calling judges and their clerks 'idiots'; insulting a Governor showing mercy; accusing all Democrats of secretly having soft spots for all criminals. Do any of these accusations come with evidence? With Reasoning? Don't be silly.

Posted by: jsmith | Nov 16, 2010 10:15:39 AM

jsmith, there is plenty of evidence and reasoning.

First, let's look at what those Sixth Circuit dissenting dim bulbs in the Getsy case concluded: that it was unreasonable under clearly established Supreme Court law for Ohio courts to concluded that a hit man could constitutionally be sentenced to death despite the fact that his hiror didn't get death. Of course, to state such a ridiculous proposition is to refute it. But in case you're a dim bulb too, here are two obvious reasons why such a proposition is unworkable (putting aside the AEDPA standard): (1) why should killers who act in concert be constitutionally entitled to the lowest punishment any of them receives and (2) why is a comparison of culpability between murderers limited to those who act in concert--wouldn't then murderers in different murders be entitled to the lenience shown a particular murderer committing an arguably similar crime? There are other reasons too, e.g., the incompatibility of such a rule with the "individualized nature" of the death determination. (Yeah, I think that's a bunch of crap too, but we're stuck with the "jurisprudence" of the Supreme Court on that point.") So, given the utter indefensibility of the dissenter's view, what other conclusion can I come to? They are idiots, and they deserve the harshest possible ridicule. Do you care to defend these boneheads?

As for insulting Strickland, well, I don't see how I have really insulted him. Go back and look at what Strickland said about the death penalty during his campaign for Governor. He, and his corrupt buddy Marc Dann, criticized the death penalty in pretty strong terms. But when he became governor, he let most of the executions go through. But then, after the voters rejected him, he decides to manufacture a BS argument to give clemency to a guy who kills a three-year old in cold blood. So my take away is that this guy is soft on criminals, but hid that when there was a possibility of being accountable for that softness, and let it out when it no longer matters. Even in your circles, I suspect, those chameleon-like principles are contemptible.

And as for "all" Democrats, you'll note, of course, I didn't say all. But Strickland's decision here is typical. Funny, I didn't see a lot of Republican elected officials openly supporting Mumia, but 31 Congressional Dems did. And funny, I don't recall a Republican president signing off on, a dare I say it, un-American sentence of eight years for a murderer of an American soldier. And I certainly don't recall GOP state reps in Connecticut openly treating Dr. William Petit with contempt in legislative hearings. Now we do have a few GOP people that act like Dems when it comes to criminals (see, e.g., Mike Huckabee), but for the most part, criminal coddlers are Dems.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 16, 2010 10:58:19 PM

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