COLUMBUS, Ohio - A condemned Ohio inmate who weighs 450 pounds should be spared based on claims raising doubts about his legal representation, not because he says he's so fat he can't be humanely executed, the Ohio Parole Board ruled Friday.
The board rejected arguments made by Ronald Post's attorneys that he deserves mercy because of lingering doubts about his "legal and moral guilt" in a woman's death, but it said it couldn't ignore perceived missteps by his lawyers.
The board's recommendation, by a vote of 5-3, goes to Gov. John Kasich, who has the final say. Post is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for killing Elyria motel clerk Helen Vantz in a 1983 robbery.
"Post took Vantz's life, devastating the lives of her loved ones in the process," the board said. But it said a majority of its members agreed his sentence should be commuted to life in prison without chance of parole because of omissions, missed opportunities and questionable decisions made by his previous attorneys and because that legal representation didn't meet expectations for a death penalty case.
His current attorneys said they were pleased by the recommendation.
"In the nearly 30 years since his case began, Ronald Post has too often been failed by the attorneys assigned to represent him, beginning at his trial," public defenders Joe Wilhelm and Rachel Troutman said in a statement.
Post also is fighting his execution on grounds that he is so fat he can't be humanely executed and will suffer cruel and unusual punishment as the state struggles to find his veins or give him enough drugs to put someone his size to death. A federal judge hears arguments in that case Monday.
Vantz's sons, William and Michael, have said they believe in Post's guilt. William Vantz characterized Post's obesity claim as "another way for a coward to try and get out of what debt he owes to society."
The long-held presumption that Post confessed to the murder to several people has been falsely exaggerated, Post's attorneys argued. Post admitted involvement in the crime as the get-away driver to a police informant but didn't admit to the killing.
"Sure ain't no murderer," Post told that informant, according to Post's clemency filing.
The dissenting parole board members said that it is clear Post killed Vantz and that questionable moves by his attorneys don't outweigh the circumstances of the case.
Doubt about Post's guilt lingers because of the involvement of two other men in the shooting, Post's attorneys argue. Post pleaded no contest to the crime on the advice of his attorney in expectation he would receive a life sentence, they said. Even after his plea, he told a psychologist "he was not a murderer."
Post's attorneys argue that prosecutors misrepresented to the judge that Post had confessed to sole involvement in Vantz's death.
"The death penalty should be reserved for cases where proof of guilt is reliable and the legal system produced a just result," the defense had said. "Neither criteria is met in this case."
Lorain County prosecutor Dennis Will had pointed to the written no contest plea, in which Post acknowledged responsibility, as "a compelling reason" to reject clemency. Will didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Friday.
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