Gov. John Kasich remained consistent in flexing his clemency powers in his third year in office, acting conservatively in most cases but showing unusual consideration in one death-penalty case.
The Republican governor disposed of 391 clemency requests this year, granting 22 of them, or 5.6 percent. Most were for minor offenses, including drug charges and theft, and many of them were pardons for old convictions — consistent with his first two years in office.
Kasich’s handling of capital-punishment cases is somewhat different, however. While he allowed four killers to go to their deaths (one who took his own life) this year, Kasich made an unprecedented decision in the fifth case, postponing the execution of child-killer Ronald Phillips of Summit County for seven months so his “nonvital” organs could be harvested for transplanting as he requested.
It was the first time in U.S. history that a governor halted an execution for that reason. Phillips’ execution is scheduled for July 2.
“I realize this is a bit of uncharted territory for Ohio, but if another life can be saved by his willingness to donate his organs and tissues, then we should allow for that to happen,” Kasich said in a statement.
Phillips, 40, said he wants to donate his nonvital organs, such as kidneys, to his mother, who is ill and on dialysis. He would then be returned to Death Row and executed.
Ohio governors have nearly unlimited executive-clemency power, enabling them to stop or postpone executions, commute or reduce sentences, and grant pardons. The only requirement is that the Ohio Parole Board must have first made a recommendation in each case.
During his three years in office, Kasich has used his clemency power to spare or extend the lives of six convicted killers and allowed the execution of 11 others.
The Dispatch obtained Kasich’s complete clemency activity through a public-records request.
The governor rejected clemency for three killers: Frederick Treesh of Lake County, executed March 6; Steven T. Smith of Richland County, executed May 1; and Harry Mitts Jr. of Cuyahoga County, executed Sept. 25. Kasich also denied clemency for a fourth inmate, Billy Slagle, of Cuyahoga County, who committed suicide in his cell on Aug. 4, three days before he was to be put to death.
Kasich approved all his clemency actions in April, denying all others over the course of the year. A spokesman said the timing was tied to how cases are reviewed and presented to the governor in batches, with recommendations for approval or denial. The governor makes the final decision in all cases.
All 22 of the clemencies Kasich approved were pardons in old cases, some going back as far as the 1970s and 1980s. Pardons allow individuals to clear their criminal record.
In his first two years as governor, he approved 29 of 640 cases he decided, less than 5 percent.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, approved 20 percent of 1,615 clemency requests he handled between 2007 and 2011. Most involved low-level, nonviolent offenses, as well as five death-penalty commutations.
Former governors George V. Voinovich, who served from 1991-98, and Bob Taft, 1999 to 2007, each approved less than 10 percent of the clemency requests they received. James A. Rhodes approved clemency in 56 of 320 cases, or 17.5 percent, in 1982, his last full year in office. All three governors were Republicans.
Only Kasich, Strickland and Taft faced life-or-death decisions as governor. No capital cases made it to the desks of Rhodes, Richard F. Celeste and Voinovich.
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
Dispatch Reporter Jennifer Smith Richards contributed to this story.
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