The Ohio Parole Board on Friday recommended that Gov. John Kasich spare condemned killer Ronald Ray Post, who is scheduled to be executed next month.
The recommendation, which was released one day before the 29th anniversary of Helen Vantz’s murder Dec. 15, 1983, wasn’t unanimous. Three of the Parole Board members argued that Post should be executed for shooting Vantz twice in the head as she worked the night shift at the Slumber Inn in Elyria.
The five board members who recommended that Post’s sentence be commuted to life in prison without possibility of parole said that Post’s legal representation over the years didn’t meet the standards for a death penalty case.
But they also rejected arguments from Post and his lawyers that there were lingering questions over whether Post was indeed the triggerman who killed Vantz. Post contends that while he was involved in the robbery as a getaway driver, it was another man, Ralph Hall, who actually killed Vantz.
During an interview with the Parole Board, Post insisted that he had no idea Hall, who was never charged in the case, would kill Vantz when he took him to the motel. But he said he was remorseful for his role in the crime.
The Parole Board members backing clemency wrote that they weren’t recommending sparing Post because they thought he was innocent. They wrote that Post’s attorneys thought the case couldn’t be won because of Post’s confessions and that belief became self-fulfilling.
“Post perpetuated a horrendous crime. Post took Vantz’s life, devastating the lives of her loved ones in the process,” the Parole Board wrote in its decision. “However, despite Post’s apparent guilt, a majority of the members of the Parole Board agrees with the proposition advanced by Post’s counsel that the totality of omissions, missed opportunities and questionable (if not inexplicable) tactical decisions made by Post’s former attorneys warrant the exercise of executive clemency.”
The Parole Board members who want Post’s execution to go forward wrote that “defense counsel’s questionable tactical decisions and omissions do not outweigh the aggravating circumstances present in this case.”
William Vantz, one of Helen Vantz’s sons, said he was shocked and disappointed by the Parole Board’s recommendation.
“All the smoke and mirrors that they’re putting up now seems to have worked,” he said. “It’s a travesty.”
Vantz said his family and friends will mount a letter-writing campaign to convince Kasich to reject clemency and allow Post’s execution to proceed.
He said there was no doubt in his mind that Post killed his mother and should face the consequences. If Post was innocent, he would have taken the case to trial instead of pleading out, Vantz said.
Post took the unusual legal step of pleading no contest to aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, essentially admitting to the facts in the case presented by prosecutors. The idea behind that plea appears to have been to preserve a legal issue over the testimony of a polygraph expert whom Post confessed to.
But the Parole Board wrote that the no contest plea, which unlike a guilty plea, isn’t considered an admission of guilt, made no sense.
Post’s trial lawyers, Mike Duff and now-retired Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Lynett McGough, didn’t obtain an agreement that the no contest plea would spare Post a death sentence, the board wrote. Rather, the Parole Board noted, they appear to have relied on then-county Judge Adrian Betleski’s Catholic faith to save Post.
“The decision to enter the no contest plea is simply inexplicable,” the Parole Board wrote. “Post ultimately derived no more benefit from the plea than he would have received from proceeding to trial and having his fate judged by a jury of 12 peers.”
Duff said Friday that he and Post relied on McGough’s informal conversations with the judges on the case. He said McGough told him that Betleski would not vote for death because of his religious views.
“Ronald Post now receives what we bargained for and that’s justice in this case,” Duff said.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will has argued that Post was never promised consideration from his office for a no contest plea because he wasn’t accepting responsibility by doing so.
Post told the Parole Board during an interview that Duff and McGough had clashed over what kind of plea he should have entered. McGough believed that Post’s best shot at saving his life was for him to plead guilty, the report said.
Post told the Parole Board that he listened to Duff and “got screwed,” the report said.
The Parole Board also criticized a previous set of appeals attorneys, who they said failed to advance issues that may have helped Post.
In an emailed statement, Post’s current lawyers, Assistant Federal Public Defender Joseph Wilhelm and Assistant Ohio Public Defender Rachel Troutman, said they were pleased by the Parole Board’s recommendation.
“In the nearly 30 years since his case began, Ronald Post has too often been failed by the attorneys assigned to represent him, beginning at his trial,” the statement said. “In its recommendation, the Parole Board rightly recognized that death is different when it wrote that the representation Post received was not befitting a capital case.”
During a Parole Board hearing last week, Will argued that Post’s legal defense wasn’t slipshod. The problem, Will contended, was that Post’s confessions to various people limited his lawyers’ options.
Will also has rejected Post’s accusation that Hall was the actual killer. His position hasn’t changed, he said Friday.
“I felt very comfortable in the arguments and the information I put before the Parole Board,” Will said.
Prosecutors have long argued that Post, Hall and a third man were casing the Slumber Inn to rob it, but the plan fell apart and Post ultimately returned alone armed with a .22-caliber pistol and shot Vantz before robbing her.
Sheryl Vantz, William Vantz’s wife, called the Parole Board’s decision “ludicrous” and said that if Post were really innocent then he should be freed. But she also said she believes Post still deserves death and not be allowed to live out his life in a state prison hospital.
“(Ohio taxpayers) are going to be paying an astronomical amount of money to keep him alive in a cushy prison hospital,” she said.
Post’s health issues, particularly his weight, have been at the center of a separate effort by his lawyers to save their client. They have argued to federal judges that because of Post’s weight the state will be unable to execute him quickly and painlessly.
One federal judge has already rejected that argument, but Post has appealed that decision. A second federal judge has scheduled a hearing for Monday.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.