Prisons

Is Ohio About to Execute an Innocent Man?

|

The New York Times reports that "an unlikely array" of judges and prosecutors is asking Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to spare the life of Kevin Keith, who was convicted of shooting six people in a Bucyrus apartment under orders from a drug dealer in 1994. Three of the victims, two women and a 4-year-old girl, were killed in the attack, while a man and two other children were wounded. But there are several glaring problems with the evidence that was used to convict Keith:

Defense lawyers say another man told a confidential informant in a separate drug investigation that he had been hired for $15,000 to "cripple" the informant whose relatives were victims of the Bucyrus shooting. That other man was also identified as the Bucyrus gunman by his co-defendant in the drug case, said Rachel Troutman, Mr. Keith's lawyer.

Lawyers say that a critical piece of evidence in Mr. Keith's case was fabricated. A police officer testified that a nurse who treated the lone adult survivor had called the police station and said the survivor identified his attacker as "Kevin." But the original defense team did not call the nurse to testify, and a 2007 investigation found no nurse with the name given by the officer. A nurse with the same first name but a different surname who treated the victim stated in a 2007 affidavit that she did not hear or relay the name of the gunman.

Mr. Keith's defenders also say that the photo lineup in which he was identified by the only adult witness was prejudiced because his photo was larger than the others, the photos were presented by police officers who knew Mr. Keith was a suspect, and the photos were displayed simultaneously rather than sequentially. The state now recognizes those practices as likely to produce false identifications and proscribes them in a law passed with bipartisan support this year….

The fact that the victim, a white man, was asked to identify a black assailant also increased the chance of an inaccurate identification, according to a panel of 13 eyewitness and memory experts from universities throughout the country….

Some of the five people who offered an alibi for Mr. Keith were never brought to testify, defense lawyers said.

Keith has exhausted his state and federal appeals, so his fate is now in the Gov. Strickland's hands. A clemency hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. Keith's execution date is September 15.

Keith's supporters have more on his case here.

NEXT: Ted Stevens Dead in Plane Crash

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Ask me sometime why, though I have no moral objections to it, I unequivocally oppose the death penalty.

    1. Same here.

    2. Same here. Which really sucks because there are some motherfuckers out there for whom death is the only real punishment.

      1. And if Radley plasters their picture up on the blog with a bunch of conjecture about his possible innocence, you’d have the same reaction.

        If there is new significant evidence that casts doubt on his conviction, by all means spare the man and give him a new trial. That’s not the case here.

        1. There’s past evidence that has newly been considered tainted, according to the article. So, there that.

    3. A sudden fluorish of conjecture from the convicted’s attorneys is to be expected as the appointed day draws near. I don’t see any evidence in this list.

      Were the claims of incompetent defense brought up during the appeals, or are they just coming up now?

  2. How do you not fact check the police statement about the nurse, and how do you not call any alibi witnesses? Did his lawyer get his degree from the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box? Seriously, WTF? I hope whoever defended him has been disbarred for.

    1. No kidding.

      “”Some of the five people who offered an alibi for Mr. Keith were never brought to testify, defense lawyers said.””

      And why didn’t the defense lawyer have them testify?

    2. “They say emerging evidence of investigative errors, inadequate defense and the existence of another suspect merit a pardon or at least a new trial.”

      Merits a new trail with adequate defense.

    3. Actually, he got its at Costco.

      I love you.

    4. Keep in mind this is the word straight from the convicted’s lawyers. There’s probably more to the story.

      1. Keep in mind this is the word straight from the convicted’s lawyers. There’s probably more to the story.

        Did you even read the article?

        “I am gravely concerned that the State of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person,” Jim Petro, a former Ohio attorney general and a Republican who described himself as a death penalty supporter, wrote in a letter to Mr. Strickland.

        Herbert R. Brown, a member of the Ohio Public Defender Commission and a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, wrote to the governor, “There is a mass of exculpatory evidence, suppressed evidence, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic reports that support legitimate claims of innocence.”

        Those officials were joined by 31 former judges and prosecutors from around the country; the Innocence Network and its 61 affiliates, including the Ohio Innocence Project; and 100 religious leaders and organizations ? a level of support that very few cases reach, said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

        Yeah…straight from the convicted lawyer’s mouth.

        Why don’t you have a big old glass of SHUT THE FUCK UP?

      2. There’s probably more to the story.

        Win?

  3. Well, someone has to be executed for this crime. And let’s face it, every case with fabricated evidence is going to seem bad if you look closely enough at it.

  4. What was the evidence used to convict him?

  5. Shut-up you racist teabaggers. Don’t you know that the government has your best interests in mind. So shut-up and get off your sister and read a fucking Chomsky book.

    Fuckin’ savages.

    1. Not only that, It appears from his picture that he is obviously a proto-conehead. We must save the breeding stock.

  6. A police officer testified that a nurse who treated the lone adult survivor had called the police station and said the survivor identified his attacker as “Kevin.”

    This sounds like double-hearsay. How could this have been allowed?

    Any lawyers want to weigh in?

    1. If the lone survivor was unable to testify, the nurse could have testified.

      But yeah, that’s double hearsay.

      Not only should the defense attorney be sanctioned for not blocking this testimony, but the prosecutor should be sanctioned for offering it, and the judge should be sanctioned for not blocking it sua sponte.

      1. Back when I was getting my LLM in Taxation, our professor was talking to us about tax court. He said that many tax judges didn’t have a clue about the hearsay rule; he knew of some who would overturn every hearsay objection citing an “exception”, whether or not one existed. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if criminal court judges were similarly ignorant about the rule.

        1. There is a residual hearsay exception. Forget the rule #, though.

        2. While there are doubtless some as you describe, most criminal court judges have at least a tenuous understanding of hearsay and its exceptions.

    2. Judging from the other apparent missteps made by his defense counsel, it’s quite likely that the defense didn’t object. Maybe there are two exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow this in, but I don’t feel like going through the statutes, and I don’t know them by heart.

    3. My friend’s brother went to law school and I think he’d say it’s OK.

      1. Well that settles it. Thanks Sue. 😉

        1. Hook, line and sinker, J sub…

    4. I’m thinking you might get in the survivor’s statement via the nurse through a present-sense impression or maybe an excited utterance exception (don’t know how much time passed between the murders and the alleged statement to the nurse), but I’m not seeing how you get in the other layer of hearsay.

      1. Assuming the nurse actually existed.

        1. Which is why I’m not seeing how the second layer of hearsay gets in.

  7. Everytime I read one of these cases I am reminded of the case of Roger Keith Coleman who became a cause celeb in the 90s as the poster child for executions of the innocent even making the cover of Time. Eventually, he was proven absolutely guilty by DNA testing a decade after his execution.

    The interesting thing about the Coleman case was the patten of media and advocacy “investigation” of his case. Every minor point possibly pointing to his innocence was trumpeted and treated with great seriousness while anything pointing to his guilt was studiously ignored. After his guilt was proven, it was shown that none of the reporters and advocates had never even talked to any of the people who had been victims of Coleman’s previous crimes. Indeed, the vast majority of the journalist and advocates where completely unaware he had even committed any previous crimes.

    None of this has any bearing on the facts of this particular case beyond the same pattern of reporting. The excerpt above is a prime example. Minor issues and unsubstantiated claims are treated as pivotal information. Just as with the Coleman case, no information about Kieth’s history or prior behavior is presented and none of the evidence that makes him look guilty is presented.

    By way of thought experiment, consider this: All the claims about the evidence could true but if you leave out the fact that he was caught red handed at the scene of the crime you create a highly distorted picture of the evidence. The fact that someone else claimed credit for the crime or that a cop testified wrongly about a second hand witness may not counter balance very strong evidence of his guilt that is not mentioned.

    That is how everyone went overboard on the Coleman (and other cases) by falling prey to confirmation bias. They cherry picked information about the case without looking at all the evidence in total as a jury must do.

    Just something to think about.

    1. Minor issues and unsubstantiated claims are treated as pivotal information.

      So it’s a minor issue that the cop who testified apparently made up a story that one of the victims identified the defendant by name? What a joke.

      Here’s a thought experiment: If there was overwhelming evidence to support Mr. Keith’s guilt, why did the cop feel the need to make up that story?

      1. “”So it’s a minor issue that the cop who testified apparently made up a story that one of the victims identified the defendant by name? What a joke.””

        It goes back to that deferment to authority from another thread.

      2. This is why I asked what evidence was used to convict him.

      3. If there was overwhelming evidence to support Mr. Keith’s guilt, why did the cop feel the need to make up that story?

        We don’t know that he did. All we know is that somebody claims to have investigated and not been able to confirm it. We have no indication of how important this information was to the guilty verdict. I find it unlikely that a second hand testimony was actually “critical” more likely, advocates simply found weak evidence and declared it critical after the fact. Again, see the Coleman case for examples of this practice.

        You are in fact making the exact error I warned against. You are latching onto a possible piece of evidence wholly without context and then fabricating a narrative in which the unrevealed parts of the case must be so weak that a police officer committed perjury and framed an innocent man.

        Remember, I wasn’t talking about the specifics of the case but rather the way in which this kind of argument is made to the public. You have fallen into the exact trap of which I warned you.

      4. I’m not sure I consider any issue “minor” when you’re talking about the state killing its own citizen. Maybe he’s guilty, maybe he’s innocent- certainly it isn’t clear from the above article, but it’s not as though juries “looking at all the evidence in total” don’t screw up.

    2. What do past crimes matter in regards to his guilt or innocence in the crime for which he’s currently facing the death penalty?

      “Yeah, he might not be guilty of this crime, but he’s guilty of something, so I’m okay with him getting executed”?

      1. It has nothing to do with the facts of the case but it is very revealing of the way in which reporters and activist ignore information that does not fit the narrative they have chosen.

        In Coleman’s case, they created a media narrative in which a young man was judicially lynched by a town of ignorant backwood hicks. By ignoring and/or hiding Coleman’s long history of impulsive violation of the sexual and personal boundaries of others, they destroyed the true context of the evidence against Coleman and created the narrative they wanted to.

        I repeat myself. I am talking about how these stories are spun to the public. I have no means of judging the actual merits of the case from one 500 word news story.

        However, I will say that the critical factors in a murder case are motive, method and opportunity. Any supposed exculpatory evidence that does not address those factors is likely very weak.

    3. I find myself agreeing with Shannon Love. There’s something very Mumia-ish about this.

      1. I was going to bring up Mumia. What a joke that people think he is innocent because he learned how to “turn a phrase” in jail. In his case, it was his gun found at the scene and it was his brother who was being hassled by a cop and then his own brother (a druggy) won’t come to testify on his behalf on several occasions. Not sure where people think he was framed. Seems a pretty clear case. He does not deny he was at the scene and I don’t believe he ever implicated his brother.

        1. the mumia case really is a very good example. if one were just to read the pro-mumia sites,one could very logically come to the conclusion that the guy didn’t get a fair trial and even that he’s actually innocent

          when you look at ALL the evidence, it’s clear that he got a fair trial AND he’s guilty as fuck

      2. Jim Petro’s totally part of the free Mumia crowd.

        /end sarcasm

    4. The interesting thing about the Coleman case was the patten of media and advocacy “investigation” of his case. Every minor point possibly pointing to his innocence was trumpeted and treated with great seriousness while anything pointing to his guilt was studiously ignored. After his guilt was proven, it was shown that none of the reporters and advocates had never even talked to any of the people who had been victims of Coleman’s previous crimes. Indeed, the vast majority of the journalist and advocates where completely unaware he had even committed any previous
      crimes.

      Your point might be relevant if it was merely “media advocacy”

      Again…from the article:

      Herbert R. Brown, a member of the Ohio Public Defender Commission and a former Ohio Supreme Court justice, wrote to the governor, “There is a mass of exculpatory evidence, suppressed evidence, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic reports that support legitimate claims of innocence.”

      Those officials were joined by 31 former judges and prosecutors from around the country; the Innocence Network and its 61 affiliates, including the Ohio Innocence Project; and 100 religious leaders and organizations ? a level of support that very few cases reach, said Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington.

      1. Unfortunately, public support tells us very little. Coleman too had public officials arguing his case. His strongest supporters was actually a pro-death penalty, socially conservative evangelical Christian prison ministry.

        My point is that the public discussion of these types of cases become more about a story and less about particular facts. People get swept up in narrative. Major indicators of guilt are ignored while minor procedural errors are magnified.

        Go back and read the new stories at the time of Coleman’s execution. (Especially in the times.) You could do a copy and paste for names and dates for many of these death penalty stories without altering them significantly because the narrative is their core not specific facts. Coleman’s case is unusual only in the degree of publicity he received and finality of the eventual evidence against him.

        I don’t know whether Keith is guilty or not. I just know that this type of news story is useless in making that judgement.

        1. Shannon – it is your job to fill in the missing information. Dont allow it to be one-sided. If you dont, Im going to assume their isnt any.

    5. This is a great point. We know next to nothing about this story, and it seems a little red meatish to a group already skeptical of law enforcement.

      Inventing reasons to stop executions is an industry, and one disproportionately staffed by highly ideological youth to boot. There are many instances where similar claims are made without any factual justification whatever, including Mumia Abu Jamal.

      This doesn’t mean Keith can’t be innocent, but the evidence presented doesn’t come close to proving he isn’t. I think a little more skepticism is warranted, and some humility. People who spend ten minutes reading a couple of articles and then believe they are experts on the case aren’t showing sound judgment.

  8. Seriously, WTF? I hope whoever defended him has been disbarred

    Driven And Skilled Defense Lawyer is a TV character.

    What was the evidence used to convict him?

    A single shell casing was found on the street in front of the place where his mother worked, or maybe at McDonald’s.

    Evidence Used To Convict Defendants is also a TV character.

    1. “”Driven And Skilled Defense Lawyer is a TV character.””

      Like Johnnie Cochran? I’ve seen him on TV.

      Without reading, I’m guess it was a public defender.

      1. Why would you guess that? You wouldn’t believe the performance of some private defense counsel.

        While the performance of public defenders on any given misdemeanor / low felony is hampered by overwork, that’s not an issue for death penalty cases, and I personally wouldn’t be convinced that any given private attorney would perform better than any given PD.

    2. “Driven And Skilled Defense Lawyer is a TV character.”

      Partial refutation!: http://blog.bennettandbennett.com/

  9. For an absolute and non-reversible punishment like the death penalty to be inflicted, the evidence of guilt must be 100% solid. Because this is an impossibility, the death penalty should never be used.

    Oh, and by the way, YOU ARE KILLING A HUMAN BEING!

    1. So what if he is a “human being”? Most of us have it coming. I know I do. You probably do too. The problem is when the state is doing it and calling it “Justice”.

    2. Decades in prison ain’t reversible either. Dumping a couple of million dollars on an old man who’s been unjustly in rapeland since his twenties doesn’t cut it.

      Oh, and by the way, YOU ARE KILLING A HUMAN BEING!

      I take it you don’t believe in the right to self-defense if your standards are that absolute.

      1. Killing a human being in self-defense presumably requires a quick judgment call. Execution, on the other hand, is a very calculated killing. Maybe you screw up and kill somebody in self-defense when that person meant you no harm at all- cops do it fairly often, I think; making a mistake in that situation is a lot more defensible than executing an innocent person.

        1. Right on, Raven. After we as a society have apprehended the assailant, we have the time to calm down, judge things rationally, and separate the convicted from society behind steelbars until he or she can prove his or her innocence.

          If the convicted didn’t do the crime, we release person back into society. And yes, the falsely convicted deserves reparation for the trouble.

          With something like 125 people released from death-row after proving their innocence, the reparation part shouldn’t place too much of a burden on society, but it would be better than for society to kill 1 of those innoncent death-row inmates.

          My fear is that one day we will no beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have killed an innocent person. And once we do, we all become deserving of the death-penalty.

          1. I’m not too worried about cost when it comes to the people we have locked-up in prison.

            For one thing, we can substantially reduce our prison population by decriminalizing drugs.

            And remember, these people are basically society’s captives. While they should not be rewarded for the crimes they supposedly committed, I think we as a society should provide them with comfortable living quarters, healthcare, and legal counsel. Maybe not cable television. But while we would also like to see evil people punished, let’s just try to keep in mind that maybe, just maybe, someone in our prison system has been falsely imprisoned.

          2. Should I say that all of society would deserve the death penalty or only those people from the state that did the execution.

            I’m from Alabama, and because the criminal justice system here hasn’t been the cleanest in the land, I’m fairly certain Alabamans have sent at least one innocent person to the electric-chair. Since the installation of lethal injection as a method only happened recently, we might have a pretty good track record.

          3. With something like 125 people released from death-row after proving their innocence

            Have 125 people taken off of death row because they were proven innocent or are some of them off death row because whatever burden of proof was required to put them there is no longer met? There can be a big difference between being acquitted and being innocent.

            1. Sorry, poor choice of words. Acquitted or innocent, neither belong on death-row.

          4. With something like 125 people released from death-row after proving their innocence,

            Which means the extravagant post-conviction safeguards afforded to death row inmates are working. If those people had been sentenced to life in prison they might still be in prison.

          5. “With something like 125 people released from death-row ”

            And released from jail….or just given a different sentence?

            How many just got off death row due to some mitigating circumstance but are still guilty of the same crime but with a lesser cause? You know, like having a case that appeared premeditated be reduced to something that was a crime of passion.

        2. Also, Raven, I think the morality of killing someone in self-defense and the state killing someone is dependent on the morality of the individual vs. the collective.

          An individual placed in the position of having to defend his or her life is solely responsible for his or her actions.

          When society chooses to kill someone, especially someone who has been rendered neutralized, the responsibility for the killing falls on everyone in the society, so we better make damn sure we’re killing the right person.

        3. Killing a human being in self-defense presumably requires a quick judgment call.

          That’s only a coincidence. It’s not hard to come up with scenarios where self-defense requires a lot of premeditation.

          1. Im sure they exist, but they have to be really fucking rare.

          2. War, I suppose, would count as premeditated self-defense. I guess it’s necessary with regards to strategy and tactics.

            And the battered woman defense is another example.

            I personally have moral objections to the notion of premeditated self-defense. I’m almost 100% anti-war. As far as the battered woman defense, I guess I’ve always felt that you should be using that time you’re using to plan the murder to call for help from the police. But then again, I’ve never been beaten by a domestic partner, so I don’t know what I’d do in a real-life situation.

            1. I take that back.

              Though it wasn’t a spouse, I was threatened by a friend and roommate. I got away from the situation and called the police.

    3. Life is about tradeoffs.

      We don’t have the option of not killing innocent people.

      We only get the option of choosing whether we kill innocent people accidentally following an intensive judicial process or whether we let random innocent people be killed by killers we don’t execute and the other lethal side effects of not having a death penalty.

      In the end, your argument against the death penalty becomes one of moral vanity. You just don’t want to have the blood on your hands. You would rather not act and let people die rather than to have to accept responsibility for the inevitable mistakes.

      1. I never said locking people up in prison isn’t acceptable. It’s reversible once that inmate has proven his or her innocence.

        1. No, it isn’t. Repeating it does not make it true.

          1. I guess by reversible, I mean that a prisoner may be released. Voila, he or she no longer resides in prison.

            If you can find a way to revive an executed death row inmate, then the death penalty will thence become reversible.

            1. Tulpa,

              Do you not believe that an authority can reverse a punishment it has dispensed?

              No body can give back time, just like nobody can give back life.

              Also, nobody is sentenced to prison with the intent of being raped by a fellow inmate. When such incidents occur, it is a failure of the prison system to properly supervise the welfare of its inmates.

              But a person wrongly sentenced to prison can be released. He no longer has to suffer through the hardship and can try restart his life. Also, if the wrongly convicted suffers any other hardships as a result of their prison sentence (loss of income, damage to reputation) the government that sentenced him should pay him compensation for his troubles.

  10. For an absolute and non-reversible punishment like the death penalty or jail time to be inflicted, the evidence of guilt must be 100% solid.

    Better?

    1. I think a reasonable argument can be made that jail time, while representing lost years of person’s life that can’t be undone, they still have their life, and as such can persue liberty and happiness if exculpatory evidence is found.

      1. I’m not buying that so-called reasonable argument. You’re seriously saying that a 60-year-old man who’s been in prison since 25 is free to “live his life” in any meaningful sense of the word?

        All legal punishments have irreversible consequences. It’s shades of gray, not black and white, from fines up through prison terms longer and longer up to death. Abolishing legal punishment is not a serious option, so what remains is to tighten up our justice system to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place. There are plenty of reforms to that effect that are going to be easier to do than abolishing the death penalty, but they’re not as glamorous and not as hot a topic at the cosmo cocktail parties.

        1. I’m not really even sure what you’re arguing here.

          I’m a death penalty supporter. But if you don’t recognize a stark contrast between wrongfully throwing someone in the slammer for 25 years, and wrongfully killing them, I’m not sure if we’ll ever find agreement on anything.

          1. “Live Free or Die”

            It cuts both ways.

          2. The main point above is that life is a fleeting thing, and you can’t live life in your 60s like you would have been able to live life in your 20s. That’s a pretty stark contrast right there.

            1. Man on my bus just yesterday told me he’d done 30 years. In at 20, out at 50. All I could think of was shit, what a waste. He seemed to be a pretty descent guy.

            2. It would be nice to have the chance to live life in your 60s instead of being hanged by the neck until dead because some slimy fuckwad falsely fingered you for a double murder just so he could shorten his sentence.

          3. Presumably the issue is that as soon as the DP is off the table a lot of people forget about how flawed the justice system is and fail to work up the outrage necessary to fix it.

        2. It would be incredibly shitty for a innocent person to go to prison 20 or 30 years, but with just reparations (loss of income) there’s still hope for the next 20 or 30 years of the person’s life.

        3. It would be incredibly shitty for a innocent person to go to prison 20 or 30 years, but with just reparations (loss of income) there’s still hope for the next 20 or 30 years of the person’s life.

  11. Of course he’s guilty. Only guilty people smile in their mug shot.

    http://www.celebrityclubber.co…..ugshot.jpg

  12. I almost signed the petition but then found out that it was on change.org

    Fuck it, he’ll get commuted.

  13. I also support the death penalty. But sometimes the system fails. This may be one of those times.

  14. I also support the death penalty. But sometimes the system fails. This may be one of those times.

  15. I also support the death penalty. But sometimes the system fails. This may be one of those times.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.