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Published: 10/20/2005

Spirko loses 2nd clemency hearing

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A second bite at the apple did John Spirko little good as the Ohio Parole Board yesterday made exactly the same recommendation it did more than a month ago: Gov. Bob Taft should not stop his execution.

After a second hearing in which the credibility of a federal postal inspector and key witness against Spirko was challenged, the board voted 6-3 against recommending clemency.

Spirko, 59, was convicted in the 1982 kidnapping and brutal stabbing of Betty Jane (Janie) Mottinger, the 48-year-old postmaster in the Van Wert County village of Elgin.

"The information presented regarding the credibility of Postal Inspector Paul Hartman was not persuasive enough to convince the majority that any falsehoods he may have recently uttered tend to prove that he fed information to Mr. Spirko, added false information to his interview notes, or lied during his testimony at Mr. Spirko's trial in 1984," the majority's opinion reads.

But the three dissenters - including Jim Bedra, former assistant director of Toledo/Lucas County Victim Assistance - argued there is too much doubt to let the jury's 21-year-old decision to stand. They expressed particular skepticism at the state's claim that it truly believes Spirko committed the crime with best friend and former Kentucky cellmate Delaney Gibson in light of evidence Gibson may have been in North Carolina at the time and was prosecuted. Gibson is a free man, having been paroled on another murder conviction in Kentucky.

The dissenters refused to accept the prosecution's argument that it dismissed the indictment against Gibson late last year because Gibson was already serving time for murder and because of the deterioration of evidence over time, including the death of an elderly eyewitness who placed him at scene.

"We would point out that Opal Seibert's death did not occur until some 10 years after the Spirko trial, allowing ample time to bring Gibson to trial," the dissenting opinion reads. "Furthermore, standard prosecutoral practices consider capital charges more urgent than non-capital charges. Apparently, that was not the case regarding Gibson.

"If the state concluded that both men were culpable in the Mottinger crime, then, simply put, both men should have been fully prosecuted in the furtherance of justice and with respect to fundamental fairness and parity," they add.

Last month, Mr. Taft delayed Spirko's execution from Sept. 20 to Nov. 15 and ordered a new clemency hearing after it was revealed the state attorney general's office had misrepresented some facts in the original hearing held in August.

Spirko's lawyers have placed renewed emphasis on the credibility of Mr. Hartman, whose interviews with Spirko were key to his conviction. The prosecution says Spirko revealed information in those interviews that only someone who was present during the crime would know.

Spirko was paroled on another murder conviction shortly before Mrs. Mottinger's death

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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