COLUMBUS - The state yesterday asked for a fourth delay in the execution of convicted murderer John Spirko as it continues to conduct a fresh round of DNA testing on 22-year-old evidence.
Spirko, 60, has asked for testing of between 30 to 100 cigarette butts recovered in August, 1984, from the post office in the Van Wert County village of Elgin, where postmaster Betty Jane Mottinger was kidnapped.
Her body, stabbed repeatedly, was found weeks later in a soybean field near Findlay. It was draped in what appeared to be an old theater curtain used as a painting tarp, evidence that has now been scoured anew for DNA samples.
Alvin Dunn, one of Spirko's attorneys, said the defense team was unaware until recently that the cigarette butts still existed, and that Attorney General Jim Petro's office agreed to add them to the items being tested.
Spirko's lawyers hope DNA recovered from hair samples, cigarette butts, or other evidence will match someone in a national database or potentially one of the potential "suspects" they have fingered.
In the alternative, they hope a complete absence of DNA connecting Spirko to the crime will bolster his claim that he was in the Toledo area at the time.
"Because the number of samples to be tested is so voluminous, the attorney general outsourced this testing to a private lab to ensure that the testing would be completed in an expeditious manner," Senior Deputy Attorney General Heather L. Gosselin wrote to Mr. Taft's office.
"Even so," she wrote, "the testing will not be completed prior to Mr. Spirko's scheduled July 19, 2006, execution date."
She requested an additional four-month delay, which would postpone the execution to late November. Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said the governor will make a decision "as soon as possible."
Spirko's execution had originally been set for Sept. 20, 2005, but Mr. Taft granted him a two-month reprieve after it was revealed that the attorney general's office had misrepresented some facts during his clemency hearing. A new clemency hearing was held, but the result was the same, a 6-3 vote recommending no mercy.
Then Mr. Taft approved a request from Mr. Petro's office to delay the execution two more months while it conducted modern DNA testing. That delay has later extended by six months, and could now be extended four more months.
Ms. Gosselin left the door open in her latest letter for another delay if needed.
Mr. Dunn said Spirko has been a smoker and that he would be surprised if Spirko wasn't a smoker in 1982.
"There are plenty of smokers that have been around the post office," he said. "If there is DNA identification on the cigarette buts, and it points to people who would not normally be in a post office in the small village of Elgin, such as somebody from Findlay, Ohio, we think that would require further explanation," he said.
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