By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Ohio Parole Board says convicted killer Jerome Campbell should get life in prison and not be executed as a Hamilton County Common Pleas jury decided more than a decade ago.
The board recommended Friday that Gov. Bob Taft grant clemency to Campbell, 41, a death row inmate since 1989. The final determination lies with the governor.
The members concluded Campbell was guilty, but new evidence might have made jurors consider a lesser sentence.
The 6-2 ruling comes less than two weeks before the state is scheduled to execute Campbell.
It's the first time the parole board has recommended clemency since the end of the death penalty moratorium in 1999. The moratorium lasted 36 years. Seven inmates - all who have come before the parole board to request clemency - have been executed since then. Taft has always followed the board's recommendation.
"It's always a very difficult decision for Gov. Taft," Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said. "The recommendation is very important to him, but he always reviews every case himself."
Campbell was convicted of stabbing Henry Turner, a 78-year-old West End man, to death during a robbery Christmas Eve morning, 1988.
The Ohio Parole Board recommended 6-2 that the governor reduce the death sentence of Jerome Campbell to life in prison without the possibility of parole. One member was absent.
FOR CLEMENCY (6)
Gary Croft, former warden of the Lorain Correctional Institution.
Sandra Mack, former director of volunteer services for Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Peter Davis, served for 23 years as executive director of the Correctional Institutional Inspection Committee of the General Assembly.
Cynthia Mausser, formerly a parole board hearing officer and assistant state public defender.
Robert Maszczynski, former parole board hearing officer.
Kathleen Kovach, director of victim services for the Summit County prosecutor's office.
AGAINST CLEMENCY (2)
Betty J. Mitchell, served as warden at state prisons in Lancaster, Mansfield and Trumbull County.
Olivia Karl, former parole hearing officer.
Campbell was quickly arrested. Five months later the case came to trial in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
Campbell has always maintained he was innocent. He's never allowed his attorneys to negotiate a plea bargain.
Jurors in his case were shown bloody tennis shoes and told DNA testing revealed the blood was human. They could not say whose blood it was. Nor did they say Campbell was wearing the shoes when Turner was killed.
Campbell said the blood was his own, blood that came from a wound he suffered in a domestic fight.
Prosecutors put two convicted felons on the witness stand; both testified that Campbell confessed to them.
The jury found Campbell guilty of aggravated murder and two counts of aggravated burglary and sentenced him to die. His conviction was upheld on appeals.
In 2001 Campbell was the first inmate to take the state's offer that it would provide DNA testing for death row prisoners in instances where it could lead to the case being overturned.
That test - finished last September - showed that the blood on the tennis shoes was Campbell's own.
At issue is whether knowing whom the blood belonged to would have made a difference in the jury's decision. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen argues that shoes were used just to show they were thorough in their investigation. Defense attorneys say jurors assumed it was Turner's blood.
The board recommendation noted that members don't doubt Campbell killed Turner, however, "We do seriously question whether the jury would have in fact recommended the death penalty if they knew what we now know."
The board also questions whether the jury would have sought the death penalty had they been given the option to convict Campbell of a lesser offense. The judge did not give them that option.
Allen was stunned by the board's decision.
"He doesn't deserve a clemency - or a new trial," Allen said. "He killed in cold blood, he left a knife sticking out of the victim's wrist."
Allen said the state's case against Campbell was based on much more substantial evidence than the bloody tennis shoe.
He notes Campbell's fingerprints were found near Turner's apartment, a witness saw Campbell in the vicinity of the crime, and Campbell sent a letter to someone from prison asking her to fabricate an alibi for him.
Assistant Ohio Public Defender Joe Wilhelm, Campbell's attorney, said the board made the right decision.
He broke the news to Campbell Friday morning, saying Campbell was surprised and pleased.
As they wait for the governor's decision, Campbell's attorneys filed a motion in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court earlier this week requesting a new trial.
Wilhelm said no matter what Taft's decision, he'll go forward with that request.
"We still think Jerome's conviction was too unreliable," Wilhelm said.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles J. Kubicki will make that determination Wednesday morning.
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