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Defense, Prosecutors Seek Clemency for Death Row Inmate

Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 5:14 PM

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Defense attorneys are asking the Ohio Parole Board to commute the death sentence of a Cleveland man convicted of a 1983 murder. But as Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, in an interesting twist, the prosecutor’s office is also asking for mercy for him.

The defense team for Arthur Tyler, who’s scheduled to be executed next month, says an innocent man is on death row. While arguing for clemency before the parole board, Tyler’s attorneys unraveled a long and complicated history of the 1983 robbery during which Sander Leach was killed.

The main piece of evidence, according to the defense, is testimony by an alleged accomplice Leroy Head. But Tyler’s lawyers say Head only testified against Tyler after a prosecutor threatened Head himself with the death penalty.

In a video presentation before the parole board, the defense says Head is actually the man who pulled the trigger.

Presentation: “In April 1986 Leroy Head signed a written statement consistent with his second statement that he alone attempted to rob and indeed shot while Arthur was inside the meat market attempting to cash a check.”

Vicki Werneke with the public defender’s office says alleged misconduct by the prosecutors and judge led to Tyler’s conviction and death sentence.

“At the conclusion we hope that the board would agree that there is grave doubt about Arthur’s guilt in this case,” said Werneke, “the unfairness of the death sentence considering that Leroy Head is now walking free in Cleveland—that clemency is the only avenue available to correct this disparity.”

Tyler’s attorneys called his sister, Francine Hawkins, to speak before the parole board. Hawkins discussed her childhood with Tyler and how he started getting mixed-in with the wrong crowd. But Hawkins says Tyler is a different person now.

The defense also brought in Tyler’s friends whom he met through a faith-based organization while in prison.

In a rare move, Allan Regas with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office told the board that he believes Tyler should be granted clemency. But Regas says that’s not because he agrees with the defense.

“This was not an easy case when we decided to seek clemency in the death penalty but we believe because we would not go to a jury and ask for a death penalty today,” said Regas, “we can’t in good conscience do that before this board and to the governor and ask for a death penalty where we would not do that under the same circumstances with the same evidence today.”

In fact, while Regas believes Tyler should not be executed, he was unwavering in his argument that Tyler was the main offender in Leach’s death - adding that Tyler is not the reformed man his friends seem to believe.

“He manipulative,” said Regas, “He’s manipulated people on the outside to get support while continuing to question authority very vocally and in the past very seriously while in prison.”

The prosecutor’s office wants the board to change Tyler’s sentence to life without parole. The board is expected to announce its decisions in the coming weeks.

Andy Chow at the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau. 

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