COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday spared a condemned killer of two after earlier expressing concern about the "considerable doubt" surrounding the case.
Shawn Hawkins is the first death row inmate to receive mercy from Kasich since the Republican took office in January, and the seventh to be spared since Ohio resumed executions in 1999. He instead will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Attorneys for Hawkins had raised questions about evidence that sent him to death row, and the Ohio Parole Board recommended last month that Kasich spare Hawkins.
Hawkins' attorney Anthony Covatta said Wednesday that Hawkins and his family were "grateful to Gov. Kasich for his wise and merciful decision in sparing Shawn from the sentence of death."
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said a statement from the governor would comment as soon as the official statement commuting Hawkins' sentence was signed.
Asked about Hawkins and clemency at a news conference last month, Kasich said he was taking a close look at the case and added, "I believe there is considerable doubt," before stopping himself and saying he wasn't going to discuss it further.
Kasich then added that one thing is always clear when he discusses executions with Ohio prison officials: "We are not going to go forward with an execution where we are not certain."
Hawkins, 43, was sentenced to die for the slayings of 18-year-old Terrance Richard and 19-year-old Diamond Marteen in Cincinnati's Mount Healthy neighborhood.
In its May 12 decision, the parole board said it was bothered by several aspects of the case, including the possible involvement of other individuals who hadn't been fully investigated.
The board also cited conflicting statements by the sole eyewitness to the slayings and pointed out even police didn't believe the crime occurred as the witness described.
The board also said it was troubled that Hawkins' original attorney never presented evidence to the jury to argue against a death sentence but instead "chastised and alienated" the jury.
A message was left with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office. Following the parole board's decision last month, Prosecutor Joe Deters said Hawkins' conviction and sentence had withstood several challenges over the past two decades.
Hawkins had enlisted unusual support for his cause: state Sen. Bill Seitz and Ken Blackwell, Ohio's former secretary of state, are both well-known Cincinnati conservatives and prominent proponents of capital punishment who said Hawkins should be spared.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.