COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – Ohio’s parole board decided Friday not to recommend clemency for a death-row inmate after considering the testimony of a juror who said he voted to put the man to death based on misleading information about his fraught childhood and drug addiction.
Raymond Tibbetts was sentenced to death for the 1997 stabbing of 67-year-old Fred Hicks in Cincinnati, and was also sentenced to life in prison for stabbing and beating his 42-year-old wife Judith Crawford to death.
In February, Ohio Governor John Kasich granted him a six-month reprieve after one of the jurors at his capital murder trial, Ross Geiger, wrote a letter to Kasich arguing that prosecutors had misled jurors by downplaying the childhood abuse Tibbetts suffered and that he would not have recommended the death penalty if he heard more about Tibbetts’ history of drug addiction.
“All of these things lead me to one conclusion and that is that the system was and seems to be today very flawed in this case,” Geiger wrote. “Governor, if we are going to have a legal process that can send criminals to death that includes a special phase for mitigation shouldn’t we get it right?”
Even though the Ohio Adult Parole Authority had voted in January 2017 to deny the 61-year-old mercy, Kasich asked it to reconsider the case in light of Geiger’s letter, which urged the governor to commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Friday, the parole board published its decision after holding a special meeting on June 14 to consider Geiger’s testimony, as well as the arguments of prosecutors and members of the Hicks and Crawford families.
The board again voted 8-1 to deny Tibbetts clemency, concluding that even if the jurors had a fuller picture of his tough childhood and addiction, the result would have been the same.
“While the Parole Board believes that Geiger submitted his letter with the best of intentions, members are not convinced that his decision would have been different had the information been presented in the same manner at trial, when the results would have been deliberated within the jury setting,” the decision states. “The vicious and gratuitous murder of Fred Hicks immediately following the brutal slaying of Judith Sue Crawford was so heinous that the mitigation as presented does not outweigh the aggravating factors in this case.”
Governor Kasich’s office did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
The state has scheduled Tibbetts’ execution for Oct. 17. It is now up to Kasich to decide whether to grant him clemency.
Tibbetts’ attorney Erin Barnhart noted that Kasich was not bound to the board’s decision and urged him to overturn the death sentence, which Barnhart called “unjust.”
“Mr. Tibbetts faces execution because the jury did not receive complete and accurate information about his background during sentencing proceedings. This was due to ineffective representation by defense attorneys and reinforced by misleading statements by the prosecution,” Barnhart said in a prepared statement. “Failing to correct the error caused by these breakdowns in the adversarial process would irreparably damage the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
The parole board also attached to its report a response to Geiger’s letter from the Hicks family, signed by the victim’s nephew, Mark Hicks.
“My family wants justice served – so for my family I ask the board to please, please send the [sic] Governor Kasich what he needs in order to be reassured that this death warrant is the right thing to do!” Hicks wrote.