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May 12, 2011

Uncertainty prompts Ohio Parole Board to make unanimous recommendation to commute death sentence

As reported in thie new AP story, the "Ohio Parole Board on Thursday recommended mercy for a condemned killer of two scheduled to die in June, a relatively rare step by a board that generally sides with the state in its rulings."  Here are the details:

The final decision on whether to spare Shawn Hawkins now rests with Gov. John Kasich, who has allowed three executions to proceed since becoming governor but has yet to decide on a case where his parole board recommended in favor of the inmate.

The board by a 7-0 vote said it had no doubt Shawn Hawkins was involved in the 1989 slaying of two men in Cincinnati and likely shot the men but said it was troubled by many aspects of his conviction. “The Board is not confident in the death sentence in this case, but is also not convinced that Shawn Hawkins is innocent,” Thursday’s ruling said.

Hawkins, 43, was sentenced to die for the slayings of 18-year-old Terrance Richard and 19-year-old Diamond Marteen.  If granted clemency, his new sentence would be life without the possibility of parole.

Hawkins’ attorney applauded the board’s recommendation and said Hawkins and his family were confident Kasich would spare the inmate. “The death penalty is a fate that Shawn does not deserve,” said attorney Anthony Covatta of Cincinnati....

The board said it was bothered by several aspects of the case, including the possible involvement of other individuals who hadn’t been fully investigated. The board also cited conflicting statements by the sole eyewitness to the slayings and pointed out even police didn’t believe the crime occurred as the witness described.

The board also said it was troubled that Hawkins’ original attorney never presented evidence to the jury to argue against a death sentence but instead “chastised and alienated” the jury.  The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office had no immediate comment.

Barb Griffith, the mother of one of victim Terrance Richards, told the parole board last week she believes Hawkins killed her son and that he doesn’t deserve clemency. Griffith “doesn’t get to talk with her son, and her son has a child that he never knew and who did not get to know his father,” Thursday’s report said, summarizing Griffith’s comments.

Ohio has put to death 44 men since it resumed executions in 1999. The parole board has recommended clemency in only a handful of cases, the most recent of which was for Richard Nields in June 2010. Nields strangled his girlfriend during an argument but court decisions had questioned the appropriateness of the death sentence. Then Gov. Ted Strickland spared Nields.

The full 16-page clemency report in this case is available at this link.

It will be interesting to watch if either the local prosecutor or any of the victims' family members make a pitch to Governor Kasich to reject the parole board's recommendation for clemency.  If they do, this case could become high-profile in a hurry in a state that really only trails Texas in its actual use of the death penalty over the last decade.

May 12, 2011 at 04:56 PM | Permalink


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Sounds like the Ohio Parole Board needs to be replaced. The perp's bloody thumbprints are in the victims' car and have the victims' blood. Game over. Let's hope that the Governor sees through this nonsense.

Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2011 10:38:19 PM

federalist, and while we're at it, let's replace all the circuit judges you think are morons because you disagree with their decisions; and don't forget Sotomayor because you think she's a stupid hack. Now I understand: YOU are the only one who should decide all the cases and YOU are the only one that should determine who gets paroled because YOU are the only one with a brain.

Posted by: anon1 | May 12, 2011 11:56:24 PM

What's with the ad hominem attacks? If you have a different opinion about whether Ohio should execute this murderer or not, then you ought to go ahead and express it, rather than just oozing sarcasm whilst pouring vitriol on federalist.

Posted by: alpino | May 13, 2011 2:49:07 AM

Federalist: Would you agree there should be a change in the Rules of Evidence? No eyewitness testimony should be allowed without physical evidence that confirms it.

I say to you, tell us what you did and saw June 16, 2009. There is no memory video library to pull out for that day. Your testimony is likely to be a false memory implanted by the lawyer for partisan purposes. Even if your testimony takes place within 24 hours of an event, it has no reliability.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 13, 2011 8:54:40 AM

I don't consider it an ad hominem attack or pouring vitriol on a person when all one is doing is pointing out and commenting on a person's unpersuasive M.O. in commenting on this website. Any decision federalist disagrees with, he accuses the decision-maker of being a hack and resorts to their immediate removal from whatever position they're in. It's classic federalist. The way I read anon1's post, he/she wasn't attacking federalist as a person, but rather was criticizing federalist's way of argument.

Posted by: charlie | May 13, 2011 9:29:24 AM

I would not consider the Ohio Parole Board unreasonable concerning DP cases. Rarely do they suggest clemency to the Governor. In this case they unanimously found merit to do so. Everyone read their recommendation. It is in Kasich's hands.

In the past year, I can recall two cases in which they denied a clemency recommendation by votes of 8-0 and 7-1. Former Governor Strickland thought otherwise. One of them was the Kevin Keith case in which they were pressed hard to spare him and did not. They issued a well reasoned recommendation.

Even as a DP supporter, I understand meaningful, but not endless, appellate review and a thorough clemency procedure. If they suggest clemency occasionally, that is no reason for them to be replaced.

Posted by: DaveP | May 13, 2011 10:58:45 AM

"Sounds like the Ohio Parole Board needs to be replaced. The perp's bloody thumbprints are in the victims' car and have the victims' blood. Game over."

..and other evidence be damned? Such reasoning in itself supports the need to do away with the death penalty altogether.

Posted by: anonymous | May 13, 2011 11:18:26 AM

alpino --

"What's with the ad hominem attacks?"

It's easier than looking up cases and, apparently, to some, more fun.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 13, 2011 3:04:26 PM

Ya see, anon, when I do call Merritt, Sotomayor and all the others morons or say that they're hacks, I tend to back that up with specific reference.

In this particular case, the Ohio Parole Board decided to deem itself unconvinced about the death sentence, but what of the bloody fingerprint? People who don't have the intestinal fortitude to come to the obvious conclusion shouldn't be on a parole board. Additionally, let's not forget about Getsy. Five members of that board thought that "fairness" dictated mercy, as if there is some right to cosmic justice for killers where one killer acting in concert doesn't get the death penalty. People that dumb shouldn't be making these decisions. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but the victims' families deserve a lot better.

Posted by: federalist | May 13, 2011 8:39:40 PM

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