News: As Death Approaches

Clemency hearing highlights doubts about Jerome Campbell's execution

Apr 30, 2003 at 2:06 pm
Leslie Blade

Jerome Campell's supporters include (standing) City Councilman John Cranley, local NAACP First Vice President Ishton Morton and (sitting) NAACP board member Art Slater and former U.S. Rep. Tom Luken.

COLUMBUS — With two weeks left before his execution, skepticism about Jerome Campbell's guilt seems to have spread to the Ohio Adult Parole Board.

Perhaps the best sign that momentum is building in the effort to save Campbell's life is the fact that Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen felt compelled to personally handle the April 25 clemency hearing before the Parole Board.

Opponents of capital punishment hope to either delay the execution, scheduled for May 14, or win a retrial for Campbell. A growing number of public officials and civil rights groups are supporting the effort. Hoping to counter Allen's insistence that the execution proceed, former U.S. Rep. Tom Luken and NAACP board member Art Slater attended the clemency hearing.

The Parole Board plans to make a recommendation Friday to Gov. Bob Taft on whether he should grant clemency.

Meanwhile, Campbell's attorneys filed an appeal last week with the Ohio Supreme Court.

The parole board's questions
A jury in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court convicted Campbell in 1989 of the stabbing death of 78-year-old John Henry Turner in the West End (see Bloody Shoes and Snitches, issue of April 9-15).

The Parole Board asked probing questions at the clemency hearing. One board member asked how investigators had established the time of death.

The answer is that they didn't. Prosecutors could only isolate a 12-hour period during which Turner was killed. Records show the county coroner was never summoned to the crime scene. Turner's body was found at 8 a.m. Christmas Eve 1988. At noon that day the body was moved to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and pronounced dead.

New DNA evidence in Campbell's favor caught the attention of the Parole Board. Last summer the state agreed to test a gym shoe that had bloodstains on it. At trial, prosecutors argued the blood was from the dead man. But last summer, after the DNA test showed it was Campbell's own blood — as he had insisted all along — the Ohio Attorney General's Office dismissed the finding as unimportant.

Parole Board member Cynthia Mausser said she was troubled by prosecutors' assertion that Campbell's bloody shoe had not been probative — that is, important in establishing his guilt.

Allen denied the DNA test had cleared Campbell.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

Allen said the shoe hadn't helped convict Campbell. The shoe was only used to establish that police "went the extra mile" in their investigation, he said.

"The DNA does not undermine the credibility of the conviction," Allen said.

But Mausser wasn't convinced. She reminded Allen that investigators had found numerous bloodstained items at the crime scene, none of them used at trial.

"Why not introduce all of the other articles?" Mausser said.

Mausser said she believes prosecutors wanted the jury to make an assumption that the blood on the shoe was the victim's.

"The intent was for the jury to assume," she said.

In an earlier ruling affirming Campbell's conviction, the Ohio Supreme Court stated that the presence of human blood on the shoe made it more likely that Campbell had stabbed Turner.

But Senior Deputy Attorney General Tim Pritchard told the Parole Board that the DNA finding proved nothing. He compared Campbell to Lizzie Borden and O.J. Simpson, saying people who kill with sharp objects typically cut themselves.

Pritchard seemed to forget that both Borden and Simpson were acquitted.

Parole Board member Betty Mitchell asked which courts have evaluated the new DNA evidence. The answer is none, unless the appeal filed last week works. Pritchard sneered that the appeal is only a "last minute litigation tactic."

But Mitchell turned that phrase back on him.

"Isn't that the same as using the shoe in the first place — a litigation tactic?" she said.

'State-sanctioned lynching'
Mausser also said she was concerned about the use of testimony from jailhouse snitches in Campbell's trial. Two men — Ronys Clardy and Angelo Roseman — testified at trial that, while in jail, Campbell had confessed to killing Turner.

New information indicating the two witnesses cut deals with prosecutors — and that the jury wasn't told — is also part of Campbell's appeal.

Allen denied that the witnesses received anything in return for testifying against Campbell or that information was kept from the jury.

"Absolutely unequivocally unfounded," he said. "A jury of his peers was able to determine their credibility."

Hamilton County prosecutors dropped aggravated robbery charges against one of the snitches, Clardy, saying prosecution witnesses couldn't be found for his trial. Mausser asked about the witnesses.

The Clardy case was a drug deal gone bad, according to Pritchard. He said witness Lawrence Ulmer had been charged with heroin smuggling in the mid-1970s.

But CityBeat found Ulmer, the "missing witness," who objected to the state's assault on his character.

"I am not a heroin smuggler or a drug dealer," Ulmer says. "I feel terrible about this, that they are trying to turn a credible witness into a discreditable person. Jerome Campbell's life is more important than the Attorney General's Office losing face. That's awful that I am hearing more things directed at me. All I had to do with it is that I got robbed."

At a press conference a week before the hearing, Slater said the NAACP is working on Campbell's behalf. He pointed to anomalies in the investigation and prosecution of Turner's death.

For example, police made audio recordings of all interviews with witnesses — but didn't tape their interrogation of Campbell.

"It's a state-sanctioned lynching," Slater said.

Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune and the Rev. Robin Forde of the Baptist Ministers Conference are also active in trying to save Campbell's life.

Campbell's defense attorneys, Joe Wilhelm and Pamela Prude-Smithers, told the Parole Board the case against Campbell was highly circumstantial. With the new DNA evidence, they argued, the case deserves reconsideration.

The attorneys also say the case is flimsy because it relied so heavily on the testimony of jailhouse snitches.

"If the state thinks it is OK to kill Jerome based on two known liars and his own blood on his shoes, this is inappropriate," Prude-Smithers said. "This unjust and unacceptable conviction can still be lifted from the dust of its shameful practices."

When Parole Board members made reference to the CityBeat investigation of Campbell's case, Allen showed signs of annoyance.

"I wouldn't believe anything that publication says," Allen said. "I have experience with them. They are not credible."

Allen argued that the execution should proceed as scheduled.

"Campbell is getting what he deserves," he said. "Jerome Campbell is an unrepentant killer."

In closing, Wilhelm told the Parole Board that executing Campbell would be unconscionable.

"Come on, who are we kidding?" he said. "This conviction is wholly unreliable, and the state has the duty to correct the lie." ©