One day after a man convicted of a 1977 aggravated murder in Toledo was released on parole, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said she believes someone sentenced to life in prison should serve life in prison.
The Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office opposed the parole given to Michael Ustaszewski, now 53, for the slaying of Henry B. Cordle, 74, in Toledo’s downtown YMCA, but the Ohio Parole Board granted parole on Thursday. He had been denied in seven previous parole hearings.
Ustaszewski was convicted by a jury in Lucas County Common Pleas Court of aggravated murder in the stabbing death of Mr. Cordle, who was stabbed 37 times.
Michael Morris, a co-defendant who remains in prison, testified the two of them went to Mr. Cordle’s room to rob him, but that Ustaszewski then stabbed him. Ustaszewski claimed he was not even at the YMCA at the time of the attack.
Ms. Bates said she objects to any suggestion that Ustaszewski’s conviction was based on a flawed case.
“The jury struggled with the case. It didn’t get thrown out on appeal. Did we have evidence? Obviously we must have because it didn’t get thrown out on appeal,” Ms. Bates said. “If he deserved to be paroled, that’s the job the parole authority is charged with. I don’t take issue with them. I just take issue with saying that the case itself was bad, because I don’t believe that to be true. Today there may be things we could be doing that were not available to us 35 years ago.
“I think life is life. I know that sounds very harsh, but I read in The Blade this morning comments that were made by Ian [English, assistant Lucas County prosecutor].
“[Ustaszewski’s] going to be able to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, holidays, grandchildren, but not the victim, not ever. Life is life,” Ms. Bates said, echoing Mr. English’s comments.
She said sometimes punishment must occur regardless of whether rehabilitation has been achieved.
The 11-member parole board’s hearings are conducted behind closed doors, and the votes are not divulged, spokesman Mike Davis of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said. The Blade’s request to interview the chairman, Cynthia Mausser, or other members of the parole board about the case was denied. Also denied was a record of how the 11 members voted.
Mr. Davis said the members do not answer questions from the media about individual cases.
In 2012, the parole board granted release in 10.9 percent of cases, or 208 cases of 1,914 requests for parole.
Of the 11 members, 10 were appointed under Republican governors, Bob Taft and John Kasich, and one was appointed during the term of Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. The salary of Ms. Mausser, a lawyer who became chairman in 2006, was $100,090 in 2011, the last year for which salaries were available. The salaries of the other four members who were on the board as of 2011 ranged from $85,980 to $93,640.
The Adult Parole Authority can have up to 12 members, who are appointed by the director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and must have some education or experience in corrections, law enforcement, probation or parole, advocating for victims, or social work. At least one member of the parole board must be a person who has been a victim of crime, is a member of a crime victim’s family, or represents an organization that advocates for the rights of victims of crime. Other than this appointee, no member can serve more than two six-year terms.
According to the parole board, its decision was not based on the possibility that Ustaszewski was wrongly convicted, as some of his supporters believe and Ustaszewski himself maintains.
“The Board finds that given inmate Ustaszewski’s assessed low risk, appropriate programming to address his risk, positive institutional adjustment, and supportive release plan, the inmate is suitable for release onto parole supervision at this time,” the board’s statement reads, according to JoEllen Smith, communications chief of the department.
Mr. Cordle’s granddaughter, Cecelia Weber, 65, was unable to attend the hearing because of a disability, but sent a statement, just as she said she has at previous parole hearings for Ustaszewski.
“Why I opposed [parole] is because the man never showed any remorse,” Ms. Weber said Friday. “Even if he did not kill my grandfather, you would think he would at least [have] said, ‘I’m sorry’ to the family. He’s just as stone-faced, and he’s going to try to overturn the conviction. He’s going to have a battle if he tries to overturn. We cousins will all unite and will consider our options,” Ms. Weber said. “My grandfather was so butchered that he had to have a closed coffin.”
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.