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Published: 1/3/2008

DNA testing fails to provide link in killing of Van Wert postmaster

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS More than two years of DNA testing on 25-year-old evidence has yielded nothing that would link John Spirko to the kidnapping and brutal murder of a Van Wert County postmaster.

But Attorney General Marc Dann s office said Thursday that the DNA samples also did not point the finger at anyone else.

"The absence of DNA evidence is not dispositive of guilt or innocence," said spokesman Leo Jennings. "DNA is one piece of evidence in a variety of different types of evidence."

The conclusions contained in a yet-to-be-released final report place the ball in Gov. Ted Strickland s court. He must decide now whether to grant executive clemency to Spirko, sparing him from his scheduled execution on Jan. 24.

Mr. Strickland had twice delayed Spirko s execution at Mr. Dann s request while the state-of-the-art DNA testing continued. His predecessor, Gov. Bob Taft, had approved five such delays.

"There was no known match with any of the people we ve tested," said Mr. Jennings, noting there will not be an eighth request for delay.

"It s the governor s purview," said Mr. Jennings. "If the governor asks for a recommendation, we ll make one, but we don t want to interfere with his right and duty to examine this case."

Spirko originally had a date with Ohio s lethal injection gurney on Sept. 19, 2005.

He had recently returned to Swanton after being paroled on a separate murder conviction in Kentucky when he was implicated in the Aug. 9, 1982 kidnapping and brutal stabbing of Betty Jane Mottinger, the 48-year-old postmaster in the tiny village of Elgin.

Her body was discovered weeks later in a soybean field near Findlay. The paint drop cloth that shrouded her body, believed to have once been a theater curtain, was one of a number of pieces of old evidence on which modern DNA testing was conducted.

His lawyers hope that the complete lack of physical evidence tying Spirko, 61, to the crime will help to convince Mr. Strickland, a former Methodist minister who supports the death penalty, to either pardon him or commute his sentence to life in prison. The Ohio Parole Board has twice recommended that the governor show Spirko no mercy.

Spirko remains on death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. The state has always contended he didn t act alone, but it has never followed through with the prosecution of an alleged accomplice.

The state eventually dropped charges that were pending against Spirko s former cellmate, Delaney Gibson, who was eventually released from a Kentucky prison where he d also served time for an unrelated murder conviction.

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



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