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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2005

Ohio Supreme Court sets Spirko execution for Sept. 20

John G. Spirko John G. Spirko
HO / AP Enlarge

COLUMBUS John G. Spirko is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Sept. 20 for the 1982 kidnapping and stabbing of 48-year-old Betty Jane Mottinger, postmaster in the small Van Wert County town of Elgin.

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday set the execution date even as a federal judge has opened the door for Spirko s attorneys to investigate whether the prosecution has covered up knowledge it knew its theory that Spirko conspired to commit the crime with former cellmate Delaney Gibson was wrong.

We re pursuing evidence that indicates the state has been lying to the court about the theory of the case it presented at trial, said Spirko s Washington attorney, Alvin Dunn. We have statements from [former postal inspector] Paul Hartman that Delaney Gibson didn t do it and was not involved, and that he made that clear to prosecutors. But they went ahead and put on a case at trial to the effect that John Spirko and Gibson did the crime together.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Northern Ohio, Mr. Hartman allegedly made that comment and suggested he knew of other possible suspects in separate conversations with Connie Mottinger, the second wife of the victim s husband.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge James G. Carr authorized issuance of subpoenas and the taking of new depositions in the case, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the case in March. Those depositions were under way yesterday.

On the day the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to uphold Spirko s conviction and death sentence in December, the prosecution dismissed its 22-year-old murder indictment against Gibson. Photo evidence suggested that Gibson, who had been paroled in Kentucky on a separate murder conviction, was in North Carolina the day before and after the crime and had a full beard, unlike eyewitness testimony that placed a clean-shaven Gibson outside the post office that day.

Spirko said before the trial and testified under oath that Delaney Gibson committed the murder himself, and that s where he learned all the intimate details of the murder that he knew of, said Senior Deputy Attorney General Tim Prichard.

Contrary to what s been alleged, these were details that had not been reported in the newspaper, and he revealed those to several different investigators, not just a single investigator, he said.

Spirko, 49, was living in Swanton with his sister at the time of his arrest. He is Van Wert County s sole death-row resident.

I m not the voice of the community, said Stephen Keister, who was county prosecutor at the time. I prosecuted back then because it was a grievous crime, and it fit the standards for death-penalty cases.

Spirko would be the 17th person executed in Ohio since the state resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1999.

If the state of Ohio executes him, they ll be executing an innocent person, said Tracy Spirko, the inmate s wife since February. I m sure he s not the first one. If we keep executing people with issues of innocence, shame on us.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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