National News

July 8, 2013

Attorneys pitch mercy for condemned Ohio man

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Defense attorneys and prosecutors plan an unusual combined plea for the life of a death row inmate who fatally stabbed a neighbor 17 times.

Both sides were scheduled to address the Ohio Parole Board Monday on behalf of condemned killer Billy Slagle at a hearing normally divided between arguments for and against an inmate’s life.

Attorneys for Slagle, 44, have long argued his sentence should be commuted to life without parole, citing his age — at 18, he was the minimum age for execution in Ohio when the crime happened — and a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

A divided parole board rejected that argument two years ago, but the final decision was put on hold by Gov. John Kasich, who delayed the execution by two years while a federal judge weighed challenges to Ohio’s execution procedures.

Slagle’s defense team plans to renew its arguments Monday, this time joined by prosecutors from Cuyahoga County. Last week, chief prosecutor Tim McGinty reversed his office’s long-standing position on the 1986 case and said he was asking Slagle’s sentence be commuted to life without parole. He used the same arguments as Slagle’s attorneys, adding that since life without parole was not an option at the time, jurors made the only choice they could to ensure Slagle never be freed.

In 1996, Ohio law changed to allow jurors to choose between death and life without parole. In 2005, lawmakers added a provision allowing prosecutors to pursue life without parole in non-death penalty cases.

McGinty said in a statement Friday that Slagle’s case doesn’t fit the criteria he would use today for a death penalty case.

Kasich is not commenting. Slagle’s execution is scheduled for Aug. 7.

It’s unclear if a sitting Ohio prosecutor has ever asked that a death row inmate under his office have the sentence commuted.

Last year, a former Mahoning County prosecutor pleaded for clemency for a man he put on death row, saying he had come to believe inmate John Eley was not as responsible as a co-defendant who was acquitted in a fatal 1986 robbery. The parole board recommended against clemency, but Kasich commuted Eley’s sentence.

Last year in Alabama, a man convicted of the 1996 killing and robbery of two people at a pawn shop had his death sentence changed to life in prison without parole. Shelby County District Attorney Robbie Owens first agreed to drop the death sentence for LeSamuel Gamble in 2007 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants who were under 18 when the crime was committed couldn’t be executed. Gamble was 18.

Owens said at the time he supported changing Gamble’s sentence since a 16-year-old co-defendant who fired the fatal shots was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 2011, an Arkansas prosecutor worked on a plea deal for three convicts known as the West Memphis Three, including one man on death row.

In a 1997 Virginia case, then-Gov. George Allen commuted the death sentence of William Saunders, saying he was swayed by a prosecutor and judge who said Saunders was not the same violent man sentenced to death seven years earlier.

Cuyahoga County has long had a reputation for heavy use of capital punishment indictments with relatively low numbers of death sentences. McGinty had promised to reduce the number of death penalty charges when he ran for the office.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus

 

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