Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ohio: Request Gathers Support

Amid growing concern that the State of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent man, prominent individuals from Ohio and across the country today called on the Ohio Parole Board and Governor Ted Strickland to grant clemency to Kevin Keith.

Mr. Keith is scheduled for execution on September 15, 2010, despite new overwhelming evidence of innocence that no court or jury has ever heard in its entirety. The new evidence shows that Mr. Keith was wrongfully convicted based on faulty and improperly influenced eyewitness identification. Additional new evidence identifies an alternative suspect who told a police informant that he was paid to carry out the crime for which Mr. Keith now stands to be executed.

Letters urging clemency were delivered to the Parole Board and the Governor today from over 30 former state and federal judges and prosecutors, the Ohio Innocence Project, the National Innocence Network (comprised of 61 innocence projects and legal organizations), over 100 Ohio faith leaders and organizations, 13 leading eyewitness and memory experts, law enforcement, and death row exonerees, among others.

In addition, two petitions, one with over 11,000 signatures and another with over 9,000 signatures from across Ohio and the United States, were delivered along with the letters.

Distinguished Ohioans supporting clemency include former Attorney General of Ohio Jim Petro; State Senator David Goodman (R - 3rd District); former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Herbert R. Brown; former United States Court of Appeals Judge for the Sixth Circuit, Nathaniel R. Jones; former Minority Leader of the Ohio Senate Ben Espy (D - 15th District); and members of the Ohio Public Defender Commission.

In his letter to the Governor, Sen. Goodman, sponsor of the bipartisan reform bill signed into law this year that mandates new requirements for eyewitness identification procedures, states: "The eyewitness identification procedures used in Mr. Keith's case are the very ones that we sought to correct in the reform package….The Legislature overwhelmingly passed the reforms because we recognized that the possibility of a wrongful conviction is real."

The main evidence used to wrongfully convict Mr. Keith was the unreliable eyewitness identification of the surviving adult victim who identified Mr. Keith after telling at least four witnesses he could not see the shooter's face because the shooter was wearing a mask. The victim then identified Mr. Keith out of a highly suggestive photo lineup where Mr. Keith's face appeared larger than the others. Another survivor, who knew Mr. Keith, specifically excluded his picture from the lineup.

The Ohio Innocence Project's letter to Governor Strickland states: "Witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated. In Mr. Keith's case, methods were used that Ohio's own laws now recognize to be unreliable, directly resulting in the death sentence of a potentially innocent man."

Also in Columbus to deliver letters to the Parole Board and the Governor were Jennifer Thompson-Cannino of North Carolina, a rape survivor who wrongly identified her attacker, and Ohio death row exoneree Dale Johnston.

In his letter to the Governor, former Attorney General Jim Petro writes: "It is deeply troubling that the execution could go forward without any court or jury having had the entirety of the new evidence before it….To maintain public confidence in Ohio's justice system we must do everything in our power to ensure that claims of innocence are thoroughly vetted in our courts. But when our courts do not do so, it is the role of the executive branch to correct that error."

SOURCE Supporters of Kevin Keith

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