COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich Monday spared a condemned killer who was set to die April 11 for fatally shooting a woman more than three decades ago during a robbery after questions were raised about discrepancies in the case and the fairness of the trial.
The Republican governor went along with the recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board, which voted 6-4 on March 16 in favor of clemency for death row inmate William Montgomery.
Montgomery was sentenced to die for the 1986 shooting of Debra Ogle during a robbery in the Toledo area. In its ruling, the parole board concluded that commuting Montgomery’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole was warranted, which is what Kasich did.
The board majority noted that two jurors said after the trial they had difficulty understanding the law, and one juror was permitted to remain on the jury despite exhibiting "troubling behavior and verbalizations" that raised questions over fitness.
The majority also cited concerns that a police report in which witnesses said they saw Ogle alive four days after Montgomery is alleged to have killed her was never presented to the defense.
A federal judge and a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Montgomery deserved a new trial based in part on the missing report. But the full 6th Circuit rejected that argument. The witnesses later said they mistook Ogle’s sister for the missing woman.
"The failure to disclose that report coupled with the issues described above relative to Montgomery’s jurors raise a substantial question as to whether Montgomery’s death sentence was imposed through the kind of just and credible process that a punishment of this magnitude requires," the parole board said on March 16.
At issue was Montgomery’s involvement in the killings of Ogle and her roommate, Cynthia Tincher. Montgomery was sentenced to death for Ogle’s slaying. He was convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of Tincher but not sentenced to death.
Ogle was shot as part of a robbery, and Tincher was killed because she could identify Montgomery and his co-defendant, Glover Heard, prosecutors have said.
Tincher’s body was found in her car the day prosecutors say the women were killed, and Ogle’s body was found in woods five days later.
Heard and Montgomery each blamed the other for the killings. Heard pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Montgomery in exchange for prosecutors dropping death penalty charges and a child molesting charge.
Prosecutors say evidence points to Montgomery as the killer: His gun was used in both killings, and eyewitnesses saw him near Tincher’s car, where she was found.
Montgomery went to a dry cleaner the day of the killings and dropped off a jacket responsible for "putting a yellowish brown, brownish dripping mess on the floor," prosecutors said.
The evidence, including Montgomery’s own version of events, points to him as the killer of both women, Stephen Maher, an assistant Ohio attorney general, told the parole board March 8.
Montgomery’s attorney said an examination of Ogle’s autopsy cast doubt on the state’s version of the killings, which then calls into question the entire case against Montgomery.
Ogle’s body lacked signs of decomposition natural for a body left outside for several days, according to a review by Colorado-based Independent Forensic Services that had been requested by the defense. The pooling of blood on her body surface indicated she died within six to 12 hours before she was found March 13, 1986, not a few days earlier on March 8, 1986, the review says.
The prosecutor’s office questioned how likely it was in cold temperatures that decomposition would have occurred in Ogle’s body, contrary to the forensic examination’s conclusion.
Since taking office, Kasich has allowed 13 executions to proceed and has now spared six inmates.