Ohio: Board recommends mercy for condemned inmate

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

AP Legal Affairs Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Ohio Parole Board on Thursday recommended mercy for a condemned killer of two scheduled to die in June, a relatively rare step by a board that generally sides with the state in its rulings.

The final decision on whether to spare Shawn Hawkins now rests with Gov. John Kasich, who has allowed three executions to proceed since becoming governor but has yet to decide on a case where his parole board recommended in favor of the inmate.

The board by a 7-0 vote said it had no doubt Shawn Hawkins was involved in the 1989 slaying of two men in Cincinnati and likely shot the men but said it was troubled by many aspects of his conviction.

"The Board is not confident in the death sentence in this case, but is also not convinced that Shawn Hawkins is innocent," Thursday's ruling said.

Hawkins, 43, was sentenced to die for the slayings of 18-year-old Terrance Richard and 19-year-old Diamond Marteen. If granted clemency, his new sentence would be life without the possibility of parole.

Hawkins' attorney applauded the board's recommendation and said Hawkins and his family were confident Kasich would spare the inmate.

"The death penalty is a fate that Shawn does not deserve," said attorney Anthony Covatta of Cincinnati.

Kasich had no immediate comment on the ruling, said his spokesman Rob Nichols.

The board said it was bothered by several aspects of the case, including the possible involvement of other individuals who hadn't been fully investigated.

The board also cited conflicting statements by the sole eyewitness to the slayings and pointed out even police didn't believe the crime occurred as the witness described.

The board also said it was troubled that Hawkins' original attorney never presented evidence to the jury to argue against a death sentence but instead "chastised and alienated" the jury.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office had no immediate comment.

Barb Griffith, the mother of one of victim Terrance Richards, told the parole board last week she believes Hawkins killed her son and that he doesn't deserve clemency.

Griffith "doesn't get to talk with her son, and her son has a child that he never knew and who did not get to know his father," Thursday's report said, summarizing Griffith's comments.

Ohio has put to death 44 men since it resumed executions in 1999. The parole board has recommended clemency in only a handful of cases, the most recent of which was for Richard Nields in June 2010.

Nields strangled his girlfriend during an argument but court decisions had questioned the appropriateness of the death sentence. Then Gov. Ted Strickland spared Nields.

Published: Fri, May 13, 2011


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