Thursday, August 23, 2001

Death-penalty foes appeal to governor

By Jim Siegel
Gannett News Service

        COLUMBUS — As attorneys for death row inmate John W. Byrd Jr. plan new appeals, church leaders and Mr. Byrd's sister on Wednesday pleaded for Gov. Bob Taft to spare his life.

        “He should not be punished for a crime he didn't commit,” said Kim Hamer, who repeated arguments by her brother's attorneys that an accomplice murdered Monte Tewksbury.

        “He does not deserve, nor does our family deserve, the pain or heartache that this cruel punishment has inflicted upon us.” Ms. Hamer said.

        Mr. Byrd, 37, is scheduled to die in the electric chair on Sept. 12 for stabbing Mr. Tewksbury during a 1983 convenience-store robbery in Colerain Township.

        Death penalty opponents failed to sway Mr. Taft to grant clemency for two other convicted killers who were executed. But the issue of innocence in the Byrd case gives some in the religious community more hope.

Accomplice confessed
        John Brewer, who got a 20-years-to-life sentence for his part in the crime, confessed in 1989 and again this year that he murdered Mr. Tewksbury.

        “We believe the John Byrd case raises serious questions about the certitude in death penalty sentencing,” said Jim Tobin, associate director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio. Mr. Taft “needs to look through that carefully.”

        Mr. Tobin and other members of Ohioans to Stop Executions also renewed their call for a moratorium on all executions Wednesday.

        Ms. Hamer has asked for a personal meeting with the governor, who on Friday will get a recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board on whether Mr. Byrd should get clemency.

        In the meantime, Mr. Byrd's attorneys filed a new appeal Wednesday with the Ohio Supreme Court and asked the court to delay the execution.

        The Ohio public defender is again requesting a hearing on Mr. Byrd's claim of innocence. A similar request was rejected 3-0 Tuesday by the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals.

Federal appeal likely
        If the court refuses to allow a hearing, Richard Vickers, Mr. Byrd's attorney, expects to file another appeal in federal district court. He has argued that Mr. Brewer committed the murder, and that a key prosecution witness — a jail-house informant — lacks credibility.


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