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June 7, 2011

With execution date looming, how will Ohio's new governor deal with innocence-based clemency recommendation?

As detailed in this post last month, the Ohio Parole Board has unanimously recommended clemency for Shawn Hawkins, who faces execution next Tuesday based on his conviction for the 1989 murder of two men in Cincinnati.  This recent Toledo Blade commentary, headlined "Uncertainty demands clemency for death-row inmate," asserts that questions about Hawkins' guilt ought to lead Ohio's Governor to follow this Board recommendation.  But this recent Columbus Dispatch article about the case highlights that John Kasich may be leaning this way, while a vocal prosecutor is not:

After allowing four killers to be put to death, Gov. John Kasich faces a dilemma in the case of Shawn Hawkins, a Cincinnati man scheduled for execution on June 14.

Supporters claim Hawkins, 42, did not kill Terrence Richard and Diamond Marteen. Both men were found shot to death in a car in Mt. Healthy, a Cincinnati suburb, on the morning of June 12, 1989. Kasich himself said there is "considerable doubt" about the case.

However, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters strongly disputes Hawkins' innocence claim, calling it "total nonsense." He recently dispatched two staff members to Columbus to meet with Kasich's legal team to argue that the governor should not spare Hawkins' life.

The Ohio Parole Board put pressure on Kasich with a 7-0 recommendation favoring clemency. "The board is not confident in the death sentence in this case, but is also not convinced that Shawn Hawkins is innocent," the board said in its May 12 ruling....

Hawkins' attorneys were encouraged by Kasich's recent impromptu comments to reporters about doubts regarding Hawkins case. He compounded that by adding, "We are not going to go forward with an execution where we are not certain."

Deters told The Dispatch that he respects the governor's clemency authority and will abide by his decision. However, he contends that the defense is offering "half-truths" and touting an innocence claim that's been made and rejected in the past. "Thirty-three judges have looked at this," he said. "I just want to make sure he (Kasich) has all the facts."

He also criticized the Parole Board's qualifications. "I just don't like seven lay people applying a standard of residual doubt that doesn't appear anywhere in the law." Deters argues that the seven-member Parole Board should be appointed directly by the governor, not the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, a cabinet agency. He said he has proposed such a change to state lawmakers.

June 7, 2011 at 10:55 AM | Permalink


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The innocence claims seem to be complete bunk. The guy's bloody fingerprints are in the car.

Kasich should let the execution proceed.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 7, 2011 11:06:58 AM

Bill? Kent?

Kill him anyway? Just to be safe?

And - by the way - where should be draw the line when there are questions? And which questions make a difference? Have you got that figured out?

Does it really matter to either of you? Or is it a detail? Collateral damage?

If in doubt....what?

Posted by: Anon de plum | Jun 7, 2011 2:11:42 PM

Et tu, Professor?

Or...in your case you are struggling mightily with this?

Posted by: Anon de plum | Jun 7, 2011 3:08:48 PM

Anon de plum --

I will be happy to say when I think an execution is too problematic to proceed after you say which execution is sufficiently well grounded to go forward.

It's not a one-way street in which people who generally support the DP are supposed to concede, on demand, "Oh wait, maybe not this one," but people who generally oppose the DP get to maintain a rigidly dogmatic view with no questions or concessions, ever.

If you preach pragmatism to Kent and me, start practicing it yourself.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 7, 2011 4:00:39 PM


I am unconditionally opposed to all executions.

You are implying you are not in favor of all - in which case you have failed to answer the question.

Posted by: Anon de plum | Jun 7, 2011 4:45:45 PM

Anon de plum --

Correct, I have not. I don't believe in one-way concessions, in which I am supposed, based on case-by-case considerations, to say Execution A should go forward while Execution B should not, while the person seeking the concession point-blank refuses to adopt the pragmatic approach he demands of me.

Nor for that matter is it particularly important or illuminating as a debate question. The issue for purposes of abolitionism is not whether THIS execution should go forward. It does the abolitionist side no good to argue that a particular execution is unjustified; it has to show that ALL executions are unjustified. That is something it does not, and cannot, do by focusing on one particular case.

As I was saying before, if you want pragmatism from others, it would be best to show some yourself.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 7, 2011 5:18:25 PM

I am not struggling mightily with this. The bloody fingerprints show his guilt. He should be executed. Those seven on the parole board are way too gullible.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 7, 2011 9:14:16 PM

personaly i think deters needs to get a life. This governor has let the DP happen for 4 other person's before this one. so kind of stupid and retarded to claim he's not in favor of DP. He has reservations about this one case and is using his LEGAL power to say no in this case. it doesn't mean the guy's walking out of prison.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 9, 2011 10:36:56 PM

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