Jerome Campbell should live, according to the Ohio Adult Parole Board.
For the first time since the state of Ohio reinstated capital punishment in 1981, the board has recommended clemency for a prisoner on Death Row. Scheduled to die May 14, Campbell's fate is now in the hands of Gov. Bob Taft.
Ohio has executed seven people since 1999. Taft has never spared a condemned man. But then the Parole Board has never before recommended clemency. As Taft has always deferred to the board in capital cases, the 6-2 vote in favor of clemency bodes well for Campbell.
Meanwhile a hearing is scheduled Wednesday on a motion for a new trial. Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Charles Kubicki will decide on the request, which cites a new DNA test and indications that prosecutors misled the jury about a deal for snitch testimony against Campbell.
'Demand a greater certainty'
Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen traveled to Columbus for Campbell's April 25 clemency hearing, urging that the execution proceed (see As Death Approaches, issue of April 30-May 6).
The Parole Board rejected Allen's arguments, saying it has evidence that was unavailable to the jury when Campbell was convicted in 1989.
"Counsel for Mr. Campbell presented credible evidence sufficient for the majority members of this board to question any sustained confidence or reliability in the jury's recommendation of the death penalty," the Parole Board's recommendation says. "The imposition of the death penalty should demand a greater certainty, confidence and reliability as to the proper weighing and balancing of credible evidence than was submitted to the triers-of-fact in this case."
The board focused on two major issues that originally led to Campbell's conviction: a Pony brand gym shoe containing blood stains and testimony by two fellow prisoners who said Campbell admitted killing 78-year-old John Henry Turner (see Bloody Shoes and Snitches, issue of April 9-15).
The board quoted prosecutors' closing arguments, with references to the blood on Campbell's shoe, sneering at his excuse that he had cut his finger in a fight. But ever since a DNA test in September 2002 showed Campbell was telling the truth, Allen has claimed the bloody shoe wasn't even important evidence.
The Parole Board found otherwise.
"Proponents of Mr. Campbell's execution would have us believe that the bloody gym shoe evidence was only a 'little corner piece' of the circumstantial puzzle, that the shoes were not entered as probative evidence and that Mr. Campbell was not hurt by their admission," the board's recommendation says. "Indeed, we are told that the bloody shoes were introduced as evidence merely 'to show the jury that we have gone the extra mile' in collecting and assembling various pieces of evidence which may be related to the crime. Were this true, the jury would have been introduced as well to the blood stained cap and glove found in the victim's apartment."
The board voiced concern that police destroyed additional blood-stained articles from the crime scene just 15 months after Campbell's trial — while the appeal process was still underway.
The Parole Board also rejected Allen's argument that Ronys Clardy and Angelo Roseman — two prisoners who testified for the prosecution — received nothing in return.
"During federal habeas corpus discovery, police reports were obtained strongly indicating that jailhouse informants Clardy and Roseman both sought and obtained consideration for their testimonies against Mr. Campbell, contrary to what was told to the jury," the board's recommendation says.
The board found prosecutors had led the jury to believe the only reason the snitches testified was to get Campbell "off the streets" and because he was "evil."
"Had the jurors received more accurate information, they might have weighed witness reliability differently," the recommendation says.
'Fight for his freedom'
The Parole Board did not exonerate Campbell. In fact, its report says the board believes Campbell killed Turner and recommended he be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
"Our recommendation in no way mitigates against Mr. Campbell's senseless, horrible, brutal killing of a defenseless elderly citizen," the recommendation says.
But sufficient doubt about the case has been raised that the propriety of Campbell's execution is no longer certain, according to the Parole Board.
"We now know more accurate, verifiable and credible facts than did the jury," the recommendation says. "We should not give blind deference to a jury's recommendation of death when the quantum of proof has been diminished from that adduced at trial. The jury's reliance on evidence and testimony now called into question strongly suggest that another outcome in the penalty phase of Campbell's trial was at least a possibility. We have diminished confidence and reliability in the jury's verdict."
The clemency recommendation gave hope to supporters who want a new trial for Campbell.
"I am relieved to see the parole board recognizes some of the problems in Mr. Campbell's case should prevent his execution," says William Gallagher, past president of the Greater Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "I pray Gov. Taft sees fit to accept this recommendation as he has in the last seven death cases to come across his desk. It would allow those who believe in his innocence to continue to fight for his freedom without also fighting his impending death."
Among those calling for clemency and a new trial are Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, State Sen. Mark Mallory (D-Cincinnati), State Rep. Tyrone Yates (D-Cincinnati), Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley and former U.S. Rep. Tom Luken.
The Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center (IJPC) sent a busload of Campbell's family and supporters May 3 to deliver petitions to the Governor's Mansion. But while elated at the Parole Board's recommendation, it's only a first step, according to Eunice Timoney-Ravenna, a member of the IJPC staff.
"Friday's vote of 6-2 by the parole board recommending clemency was historic," she says. "It speaks to the merits of this case and the need for further investigation of Mr. Campbell's innocence claim. But this is not a complete celebration, rather a stepping stone, one step closer to a new trial for Jerome, so that finally a court can see the DNA evidence and Jerome can get the justice he rightly deserves." ©