John G Spirko's death sentence commuted to LWOP

Today Tennessee Gov. Ted Strickland commuted death sentence of John G. Spirko to LWOP, short of the clemency request filed by his attorneys. TCASK will probably have some more updates soon. In a statement, the governor said,

John Spirko was convicted, by a jury, of a heinous murder. At times, when he wasn’t denying having committed the murder, he appears to have admitted doing so. Ohio and federal trial, appellate and supreme courts reviewed his conviction and upheld it. Alibi claims and claims regarding evidentiary weaknesses, including more recently developed theories and interpretations of evidence, were considered by those courts and rejected. In addition, Governor Taft and I granted Mr. Spirko, collectively, seven reprieves to allow for the analysis of DNA related to the case. Once completed, these DNA tests neither exonerated Mr. Spirko nor implicated him or anyone else.

The Ohio Parole Board twice unanimously recommended against clemency for Mr. Spirko. Most recently, in 2005, six members of the Board recommended against clemency and three recommended that Mr. Spirko be allowed time to exhaust newly developed legal theories in the courts. Mr. Spirko was ultimately allowed that opportunity and his claims were rejected. Mr. Spirko’s claims that his own lies led to his conviction for an offense that he did not commit are unpersuasive in the face of the judicial scrutiny this case has received. Nonetheless, I have 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 that arises from careful scrutiny of the case record and revelations about the case over the past 20 years, makes the imposition of the death penalty inappropriate in this case.

In making this determination, my staff and I conducted a thorough review of the judicial decisions associated with this matter, the Adult Parole Authority’s reports and recommendations, letters received in the Office of the Governor and by the parole board, the arguments and exhibits presented at the Parole Board hearing, the arguments presented by Mr. Spirko’s counsel in favor of clemency, recordings of various interviews, relevant photographs, newspaper analyses of this matter and Mr. Spirko’s institutional mental health records.

Based on this review, I have decided to commute Mr. Spirko’s sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Also here is the response from Spirko’s attorney’s,

John Spirko is an innocent man who has spent 25 very long and hard years in prison — 23 on death row — for a crime he did not commit. There can be no joy in the commutation of an innocent man’s sentence to life without parole. The positive thing about Governor 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.

We had told Governor Strickland that Mr. Spirko was prepared to waive all his constitutional rights to allow the Van Wert County Prosecutor to again try him and seek the death penalty in a fair and honest trial — not the trial he got in 1984, filled as it was with false evidence and a false theory of the case. All Mr. Spirko has ever asked for was to be judged fairly and honestly. We all now know that there is absolutely not one shred of evidence — physical, forensic or otherwise — linking Mr. Spirko to this crime. The recent DNA and fingerprint results for which we waited more than two years confirm that Mr. Spirko was not present at the crime scenes. Objectively corroborated evidence confirms that Mr. Spirko was meeting in Toledo with his parole officer at the very time this crime was being committed in Elgin, 100 miles away.

We will continue to urge Governor Strickland and Attorney General Dann to review Mr. Spirko’s claims of actual innocence so that justice will be served by Mr. Spirko’s release from prison and by finally prosecuting those actually responsible for Mrs. Mottinger’s murder.

Tom Hill
Alvin Dunn

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