Revisiting the Spirko case

Death row inmate John Spirko will not face his scheduled execution later this month. His time on death row has been extended by at least 56 days.

Last week, Gov. Bob Taft ordered a new clemency hearing for Spirko after the Ohio Parole Board took the unprecedented step of asking for a chance to reconsider his case.

Given the significant doubts surrounding Spirko's capital conviction, one can only wonder why Taft didn't simply commute the death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. At least one outside legal expert calls the Spirko case the "weakest" death penalty conviction he's ever seen.

As this page has said before, Spirko is not a sympathetic character. His long
criminal record - which includes murder - has caused him to spend virtually his entire adult life in prison. But he may well have not committed the murder for which he received the death penalty. The evidence against him is flimsy.

That is why the parole board's decision to reconsider the case is both moral and just. Killing criminals is not a solution to America's crime problem. And the willful killing of criminals whose convictions are overshadowed by reasonable doubts is simply immoral.

If the state built its case against Spirko on lies, as some evidence suggests, the parole authority must carefully search for the truth. In the meantime, if Taft harbors doubts about this case, he should be prepared to use his power to grant clemency and reduce Spirko's sentence.

(source: Editorial, Plain Dealer)