Ohio governor to alert families of murder victims to execution mercy

COLUMBUS, Ohio - In the future Ohio Gov. John Kasich will call family members of murder victims when he decides to spare the lives of death row inmates, the governor's office said Friday.

Kasich's decision followed a meeting earlier this week with relatives of a homicide victim upset by the governor's decision to grant clemency last year.

At issue was Kasich's announcement on Dec. 17 he was sparing Ronald Post, sentenced to death for killing Elyria motel clerk Helen Vantz on Dec. 15, 1983.

Kasich followed a recommendation by the Ohio Parole Board that Post receive clemency because of poor legal representation he received at trial. The governor's decision was unrelated to a request for mercy by Post's attorneys because he was so obese that he could not be executed humanely.

Vantz' son, Michael Vantz, asked earlier this year for a meeting with Kasich for a chance to hear from the governor about his reasons for sparing Post and the decision to announce it so close to the anniversary of Helen Vantz' death.

The timing of Kasich's decision "was one major point of tension, and disrespect to the victim's family members, friends, survivors," Michael Vantz, of suburban Cleveland, said in an email Friday in which he described the meeting with the governor on Wednesday.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols declined to comment on the meeting, calling it a private event, but confirmed the governor's new policy on informing relatives if a death sentence is commuted. Nichols added that Kasich acknowledged the unfortunate timing of his clemency announcement for Post, who had been scheduled to die Jan. 16.

Kasich also promised to look into the issue of whether a judge could be required to remove a defense attorney from a trial if the attorney was deemed incompetent, according to Vantz.

During the meeting, Kasich related the story of his parents' 1987 death in a crash caused by a drunk driver and gave Vantz a signed copy of his book, "Every Other Monday," about faith and finding solace, Vantz said.

"His deeply sincere regret about the very timing of commuting the sentence of the murderer Ronald Post was extraordinary," Michael Vantz said in his email. "Kasich proved his humanity."

A friend of Vantz' murdered mother and one of her nephews also attended the meeting with Kasich.

Kasich has spared the lives of four death row inmates since taking office and denied clemency for 10 others.

Governors in Ohio and other states have struggled with the same issue.

Earlier this week in Colorado, records released by Gov. John Hickenlooper indicated he has spoken with seven prosecutors and two defense attorneys as well as victims' families as he ponders whether to grant clemency to Nathan Dunlap, who faces execution in August for ambushing and killing four people in 1993.

In Illinois, former Gov. George Ryan set up a review structure so families could be heard while he considered the general commutation of death row, which he ultimately carried out.

In Missouri, former Gov. Mel Carnahan was criticized for not telling relatives of the victim of Darrell Mease of his intention to spare him. Carnahan commuted Mease's death sentence in 1999 at the urging of Pope John Paul II, who was visiting the U.S. at the time.

Carnahan later apologized for the "human error" in failing to notify the parents of shooting victim Willie Lawrence.

Former Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste has said he never regretted his decision to commute eight inmates' death sentences on the eve of leaving office in 1991, but in later years acknowledged the mistake of not consulting more deeply with prosecutors and family members of the victims of the killers he freed from death row.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus .

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