Spirko’s sentance commuted!
Death Row prisoner wins clemency
Governor blocks Spirko execution by commuting his sentence to life without possibility of parole
Thursday, January 10, 2008 3:26 AM
By Alan Johnson
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
He will not be executed for a 26-year-old murder, but John G. Spirko Jr. won't get out of prison, either.
Gov. Ted Strickland used his executive clemency power yesterday to block Spirko's scheduled Jan. 24 execution. Instead, the governor commuted his sentence to life without the possibility of parole.
In reviewing the case, Strickland said he "concluded that the lack of physical evidence linking him to the murder, as well as the slim residual doubt about his responsibility for the murder … makes the imposition of the death penalty inappropriate in this case."
However, Strickland said he found "unpersuasive" Spirko's claims that he was convicted based largely on his own lies to a postal investigator.
Thomas Hill and Alvin Dunn, Spirko's Washington, D.C., attorneys, quickly issued a statement saying, "There can be no joy in the commutation of an innocent man's sentence to life without parole.
"The positive thing about Gov. Strickland's commutation is that the state will now not execute an innocent man and that we can, and will, continue to fight for Mr. Spirko's complete exoneration and release."
Hill said his client was "relieved and grateful to be able to live another day to continue to fight to prove his innocence."
Spirko, 61, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1982 abduction and murder of Betty Jane Mottinger, 48, postmistress in Elgin in northwestern Ohio. Her body, wrapped in a paint-spattered tarp, was found in a farm field about six weeks after she disappeared.
Jane Varley, sister-in-law of the victim's daughter who has become a spokeswoman for the family, told The Dispatch they are "understandably upset at Gov. Strickland's decision today."
She said Spirko was convicted of a 1969 murder, and Mottinger's death came shortly after he was released from prison 13 years later.
"His criminal life, beginning at age 8, includes numerous other violent crimes. Who knows how many others he committed that never resulted in an arrest? Isn't this exactly the kind of monster for whom the death penalty was intended? The jury, the appeals courts, and the clemency board all thought so. Why doesn't the governor agree? We can't fathom this."
Andrea Carson, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Spirko will be reclassified and moved off Death Row at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, possibly as soon as today.
Spirko's was the most controversial death-penalty case since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. He received seven gubernatorial reprieves, all to permit exhaustive testing of DNA materials found at the crime scene and the location where the body was dumped.
Last week, Attorney General Marc Dann said the testing uncovered no DNA evidence proving or disproving Spirko's guilt, or placing him at the crime scene.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, said the problems with Spirko's case "demonstrate the crisis existing throughout the death-penalty systems in our country."
Dieter noted that 126 men have been exonerated from Death Row across the country, including five from Ohio. Earlier this week former Death Row inmate Ken Richey was freed and has now returned to his native Scotland.