Ohio bishops commend governor's reprieve, commutation of executions

Lethal injection Credit Samrith Na Lumpoon Shutterstock CNA Samrith Na Lumpoon/Shutterstock.

The Ohio Catholic Conference on Friday welcomed the state governor's decision to grant reprieve and commutation to two men who were to have been executed.

"The Catholic Conference of Ohio commends Governor Kasich for his leadership, courage, and pursuit of justice in commuting the death sentence of Raymond Tibbetts, as well as granting a reprieve for Cleveland Jackson," the organization stated July 20.

"Each case presented strong evidence that corrective actions were needed by the Governor. Thank you, Governor Kasich."

"The Catholic Church believes that the death penalty is an unnecessary and systemically flawed form of punishment," wrote the Ohio Catholic Conference. "We seek mercy for those on death row because we believe that spiritual conversion is possible and that all life – even that of the worst offender – has value and dignity."

Earlier on Friday, Kasich had commuted the death sentence of Raymond Tibbetts to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tibbetts would have been executed Oct. 17.

Tibbetts was convicted for the 1997 murders of Judith Crawford, his wife, and Fred Hicks, their landlord.

The commutation was granted "as a result of fundamental flaws in sentencing phase of his trial," the governor's office announced, noting that "the defense's failure to present sufficient mitigating evidence, coupled with an inaccurate description of Tibbetts's childhood by the prosecution, essentially prevented the jury from making an informed decision about whether Tibbetts deserved the death penalty."

Jurors were not told that Tibbetts had suffered abuse as a child in the foster care system, and one of the jurors has said he would have voted for life without parole instead of the death penalty had this been disclosed.

"The system failed to provide me with the information I needed to make an accurate and fair determination," Ross Geiger wrote in an opinion piece earlier this year.

Kasich also chose to grant a reprieve to delay until May 29, 2019 the execution of Cleveland Jackson, which had been scheduled to take place Sept. 13. The delay will "allow his newly appointed legal counsel sufficient time to review the case and properly prepare for his clemency hearing before the Parole Board."

"Jackson's previous court-appointed counsel withdrew their representation just four months prior to his initially scheduled execution after admitting that they failed to do any work to prepare his clemency application over the course of the previous four years," according to Kasich's office.

Jackson was convicted for the 2002 murders of  Leneshia Williams, 17, and Jayla Grant, 3.

Kasich, a Republican, rejected calls for clemency in 2016 in the case of Ronald Phillips. Phillips was executed in July 2017, having been convicted of the 1993 rape and murder of three-year-old Sheila Marie Evans, his girlfriend's daughter.

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