Ohio board to rule on condemned man's mercy plea

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The Ohio Parole Board is ready to announce whether it will recommend mercy for a condemned man convicted of fatally stabbing his Cleveland neighbor 17 times -- and the prosecutor this time is in his court.

The board ruled unanimously against clemency for Billy Slagle two years ago, but that was before Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty reversed his office's position.

In a rare move, McGinty asked the board to commute Slagle's sentence to life without parole. McGinty says his review of the case found it unlikely that Slagle would receive a death sentence under current law, especially now that life without parole is an option.

Attorneys for Slagle, 44, have long argued he should be spared death, citing a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and his age when the crime occurred -- 18, the minimum for execution in Ohio.

McGinty joined that argument earlier this month, saying that since life without parole was not an option at the time, jurors made the only choice they could to ensure Slagle would never be freed.

In 1996, Ohio law changed to allow jurors to choose between execution and life without parole. In 2005, lawmakers added a provision allowing prosecutors to pursue life without parole in non-death penalty cases.

McGinty says the decision to recommend mercy was not meant to diminish the heinous facts of the death of Mari Anne Pope, killed during a burglary while two young children she was watching were in the house.

Gov. John Kasich, who has the final say, is not commenting. Slagle's execution is scheduled for Aug. 7.

At a hearing last week, Lauretta Keeton, whose children were in the house the night of the slaying, asked the parole board to reject clemency on behalf of the loving neighbor everyone knew as "Marnie."

"Billy Slagle was convicted, his sentence was death, and I feel it should be carried out," Keeton, 57, of suburban Cleveland, told the board. "It would make a mockery of the prosecutor and jury if this is overturned."

William Caine, a retired Cuyahoga County prosecutor who oversaw Slagle's case, also protested McGinty's decision and asked the board to reject mercy.

It's unclear whether a sitting Ohio prosecutor has ever asked for commutation of a death sentence for an inmate, whose case was handled by that prosecutor's office.

Ohio's Cuyahoga County has long had a reputation for heavy use of capital punishment indictments -- which can involve costly investigations -- with relatively low numbers of death sentences.

McGinty had promised to reduce the number of death penalty charges when he ran for the office.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus

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