CLEMENCY: Gov. Strickland Commutes Kevin Keith's Sentence to Life Without Parole

On September 2, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (pictured) granted clemency to Kevin Keith, commuting his death sentence to life without parole. Keith, who was convicted of killing three people, has always maintained his innocence, and some evidence pointed to another suspect. Gov. Strickland’s commutation statement addressed his concerns regarding Keith’s case: “Mr. Keith’s conviction relied upon the linking of certain eyewitness testimony with certain forensic evidence about which important questions have been raised. I also find the absence of a full investigation of other credible suspects troubling.” The governor acknowledged that Keith might well be guilty and that the Ohio Parole Board had recommended against clemency, but he could not allow an execution with the doubts that persisted.  The governor left open the possibility that future developments might require additional relief for Mr. Keith.  Attorneys for Keith applauded Gov. Strickland’s actions, but said they will continue to petition for a new trial to address newly discovered evidence, evidence withheld by the State, and new science behind eyewitness identification, all of which, they claim, point to Mr. Keith's innocence.

(A. Johnson, "Strickland commutes death row inmate's sentence to life without parole," Columbus Dispatch, September 2, 2010; "Governor's Statement Regarding Clemency Application of Kevin Keith," September 2, 2010; and "Statement from Attorneys for Kevin Keith in Response to Governor Strickland's Commutation to Life Without Parole," September 2, 2010). See Clemency, Innocence and Life Without Parole.

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Governor’s Statement Regarding Clemency Application of Kevin Keith - Sept. 2, 2010

Columbus, OH – Governor Ted Strickland today issued the following statement regarding the pending clemency application of Kevin Keith:

“Kevin Keith was convicted, by a jury, of callously murdering three people - including a four-year old child - and shooting three others, including two young children.  Since the time of his arrest more than 16 years ago, Mr. Keith has maintained his innocence, insisting that someone else committed the murders.

“Mr. Keith’s conviction has been repeatedly reviewed and upheld by Ohio and federal courts at the trial and appellate level.  The Ohio Parole Board recommended against clemency in this case.  There is evidence which links him to the crimes that, while circumstantial, is not otherwise well explained.  It is my view, after a thorough review of the information and evidence available to me at this time, that it is far more likely that Mr. Keith committed these murders than it is likely that he did not.

“Yet, despite the evidence supporting his guilt and the substantial legal review of Mr. Keith’s conviction, many legitimate questions have been raised regarding the evidence in support of the conviction and the investigation which led to it.  In particular, Mr. Keith’s conviction relied upon the linking of certain eyewitness testimony with certain forensic evidence about which important questions have been raised.  I also find the absence of a full investigation of other credible suspects troubling.

“Clearly, the careful exercise of a governor’s executive clemency authority is appropriate in a case like this one, given the real and unanswered questions surrounding the murders for which Mr. Keith was convicted.  Mr. Keith still has appellate legal proceedings pending which, in theory, could ultimately result in his conviction being overturned altogether.  But the pending legal proceedings may never result in a full reexamination of his case, including an investigation of alternate suspects, by law enforcement authorities and/or the courts.  That would be unfortunate – this case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court.  Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed.  I have decided, at this time, to commute Mr. Keith’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  Should further evidence justify my doing so, I am prepared to review this matter again for possible further action.”