Last week, Ohio Governor John Kasich granted clemency to John Eley, an inmate that was scheduled to be executed on July 26 for the 1986 killing of Ihsan Aydah, a store owner in Youngstown. In addition to thousands of petition signers urging the governor to spare Eley’s life, the lead detective who investigated the murder, the prosecutor who sought the death penalty in his case, and a judge who handed down the sentence all called for an alternative sentence for Eley.
In addition to Eley’s limited mental capacity, prosecutors had used the death penalty as a way to threaten Eley into testifying against the mastermind of the crime, Melvin Green, but he refused to do so. Governor Kasich took these factors into consideration and reduced Eley’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This overruled the Ohio Parole Board, which recommended against clemency in a 5-3 ruling in June. The three members who supported Eley’s clemency said that he is not the “worst of the worst” killers, and pointed to other cases of convenience store robbers who committed more serious crimes but did not receive death sentences. They believed the crime would not have happened without Green, who was acquitted in a separate trial.
Last week we wrote about the case of Warren Hill, a Georgia inmate who is scheduled to be executed on July 18th despite the fact that a lower court judge found him to be intellectually disabled by a “preponderance of the evidence.” However, Georgia is the only state requiring defendants prove their mental disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Georgia Supreme Court and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hill’s death sentence, arguing that Hill failed to reach this high standard of proof, and that executing him will not violate the landmark Atkins v. Virgina decision because that law left the authority to determine one’s intellectual capacity up to the state legislatures.
Several jurors who sat on Hill’s original jury have since spoken out and said that they would have sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole had they been given a choice at the time, especially after learning of the evidence of his intellectual disability and history of childhood abuse. Sadly, if Hill would have been a defendant in another state, he would not be facing execution. The last plea was to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Unfortunately, TADP just learned that Hill’s clemency request was denied today.
Yokamon Hearn is a Texas inmate also scheduled to be executed on July 18, even though there is evidence that he has had brain damage since he was a young child, and suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Hearn’s trial attorneys failed to investigate and present his mental health issues which likely would have provided enough mitigating evidence that jurors would have decided on a different sentence.
These cases are just a few examples out of many around our country that demonstrate the arbitrariness of the death penalty system. They show that all too often, those with mental illness and intellectual disability are the ones who end up on death row, while others who commit similar crimes receive vastly different sentences. How is this justice?
(photo courtesy of storagesanity)