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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2005

Spirko appeal on trial witness denied


A federal judge yesterday rejected a motion from death-row inmate John Spirko in a bid to reopen a new avenue of appeals on his conviction for the murder of a rural Van Wert County postmaster.

U.S. District Judge James Carr denied a motion from Spirko to reconsider the credibility of a retired postal inspector whose testimony was used to convict Spirko in the August, 1982, slaying of Betty Jane Mottinger.

Spirko, 59, is scheduled to die Nov. 15 for the abduction and murder of the 48-year-old woman, who was the postmaster at the tiny village of Elgin, Ohio.

She was kidnapped from the rural post office and found nearly six weeks later. She was stabbed more than a dozen times.

The motion was based on an Aug. 31 letter from Gregory Duerr, an inspector in Cleveland, to U.S. Chief Postal Inspector Leroy Heath, informing him that 15 complaints were filed by employees against Postal Inspector Paul Hartman, a key witness at the 1984 trial.

The letter surfaced after Judge Carr decided against Spirko in the appeal of the court's decision in 2000 that upheld Spirko's conviction and death sentence.

"We are disappointed with the decision on the motion. We continue to maintain that John Spirko is innocent of the crime," said Spirko's Washington attorney, Alvin Dunn.

The Ohio Parole Board has twice denied clemency for Spirko, most recently on Oct. 19 when the credibility of Mr. Hartman was challenged. The retired postal inspector's interviews with Spirko were key in obtaining the conviction.

Mr. Dunn said an appeal of Judge Carr's denial of the motion likely would be made to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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