September 17, 2014

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Strickland hasn’t used clemency power

COLUMBUS — Close to a year after taking office, Gov. Ted Strickland has yet to use executive clemency — the first time in recent years that an Ohio governor has held off on exercising that power, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

Strickland, a Democrat, did delay three death-penalty cases earlier this year. But he hasn’t acted on 268 requests on his desk, and probably won’t take any action by the end of the year, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

“The governor’s approach is very serious, very sober,” said Kent Markus, Strickland’s chief legal counsel. “He believes that these decisions must be made only after the most comprehensive review and thoughtful consideration.”

Strickland is considering 74 applications carried over from former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said.

He’s also considering another 50 that he’s received since taking over from Taft in January.

Strickland has not begun reviewing an additional 144 applications submitted since he took office, Dailey said.

The governor took several months to establish a review process, which began with an examination of the requests by Markus.

He prefers to look at cases without first getting a recommendation from his legal staff so that he can maintain an open mind, Dailey said. After that, Strickland considers recommendations from members of his staff, the Ohio Parole Board, judges and other interested parties.

Clemency from an Ohio governor can come in the form of a commutation, which results in a reduced sentence; a pardon, which wipes out a criminal record; a reprieve, which delays a sentence’s implementation; and the release of a critically ill prisoner who typically is determined by a doctor to be within six months of dying.

Taft approved 15 of 407 clemency requests during his first two years in office, the Dispatch reported. Republican Gov. George Voinovich, Taft’s predecessor, approved clemency in 28 of 606 cases in 1991, his first year in office.

Gov. Richard Celeste, a Democrat, granted 67 clemencies just before leaving office in 1991, commuted eight death sentences and shortened the prison sentences for 26 women who were found to be victims of battered woman syndrome.

In response, state lawmakers acted in 1994 to force governors to obtain a parole board recommendation before deciding a clemency request.

Republican Gov. James Rhodes approved clemency in 56 of 320 cases in 1982, his last year in office.