COLUMBUS — Convicted murderer William T. Montgomery has been spared from Ohio’s lethal injection gurney.
Without comment, Gov. John Kasich on Monday commuted Montgomery’s death sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole, agreeing with the 6-4 recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board on March 16.
It marked the sixth time that the governor, a Republican, has commuted a death sentence, each time to life in prison without parole. Fourteen executions have been carried out since he took office in 2011.
OBJECTMontgomery, 52, had been scheduled to be executed on April 11 for the 1986 robbery and murder of Debra Ogle, 20, of South Toledo. He is also serving a life sentence for the murder of her roommate, Cynthia Tincher, 19, who the prosecution maintained was killed to prevent her from connecting Ms. Ogle with Montgomery and his convicted accomplice, Grover Heard, Jr.
The parole board’s majority determined that too many questions have been raised in the case, including the prosecution’s failure to disclose to the defense a police report made by old high school friends of Ms. Ogle that raised doubts as to whether she was actually killed on the date police said.
The 1986 report did not surface until years after Montgomery was convicted. It came to light through a public records request.
The former classmates later retracted that statement, saying they must have seen and exchanged waves with Ms. Ogle’s younger sister four days after Debra Ogle was supposed to have been murdered. Her body was discovered in a wooded area after the supposed sighting.
Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates did not object to Mr. Kasich’s decision. Her husband, current county Common Pleas Judge James Bates, originally prosecuted the case.
“As long as he is locked up for every day for the rest of his life and never, ever harms another soul, justice will be served,” Ms. Bates said. “This has been, for these victims, 32 years of a roller coaster.”
She said the majority on the parole board appeared to give great weight to more affidavits from some of Montgomery’s jurors who questioned whether they would have returned the same death verdict more than three decades ago if they’d had this information at the time.
Montgomery, 52, has maintained his innocence, accusing Heard of shooting both women with Montgomery’s gun. His Cleveland attorney, Jon Oebker, said Montgomery simply wanted to live to continue seeking a new trial.
“William Montgomery will be alive on April 12, so we’re happy about that,” he said. “We’re weighing all our options. We have always maintained that he deserves a full and fair new trial, and we will pursue those avenues.”
The clemency petition did not specify what type of clemency Montgomery wanted from Mr. Kasich. The parole board, however, settled on life without parole. Barring a court ruling to the contrary, that will ensure Montgomery would never be released.
“I can’t believe what’s happened,” Ms. Ogle’s mother, Jane, said. “I thought the governor would go for lethal injection. I want to make sure that Montgomery knows and his attorneys know that this is Debbie and Cindy’s day, because he’s going to stay in for life.
She said she doesn’t believe the parole board had enough time to fully digest 32 years of court records in such a complicated case.
“That’s my daughter,” Ms. Ogle said. “I brought her into the world. It’s just not easy after 32 years.”
The sentence of life without parole was not an option at the time that Montgomery was originally sentenced to death.
“This man was tried and convicted by a jury and found guilty and sentenced to death. The same man that has killed three people before he was 20,” wrote Ms. Tincher’s brother, Kenny Keith of Toledo in an e-mail.
WILL TOMER: When the American justice system fails
He was also counting Montgomery’s juvenile record of involuntary manslaughter.
“This decision by the governor and the parole Board of Ohio shows how bad the legal system in this country is. When a murderer has more rights than the victims and their families,” he wrote. “I hope the governor can sleep good at night knowing how he destroyed two families again. William Montgomery has been playing the legal system for 32 years. And today he beat the legal system.”
Kevin Werner, executive director of Ohioans to Stop Executions, said the Montgomery case points to broader problems with the death penalty.
“Three decades later there are problems that were never addressed or new evidence that comes to light,” he said. “Globally, it’s just unfortunately a piece of the puzzle that the system is broken.”
Staff writer Jennifer Feehan contributed to this story.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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