Ohio: Angry Lawyering And Doubts About Guilt

June 2, 2011

Ohio’s Parole Board has voted 7-0 to recommend clemency for Shawn Hawkins due to doubts about his guilt and an angry lawyer that berated his jury.  Ohio Governor John Kasich does not have to follow this recommendation, but he should.  (And you can urge him to do so.)

Hawkins’ conviction rests mainly on the testimony of an eyewitness who has changed his story several times (and was initially a suspect before being granted full immunity).  There was no murder weapon found and Hawkins had several alibi witnesses.

Upset that his client was convicted despite such a weak case, Hawkins’ lawyer lashed out at (and vaguely threatened) the jury during the sentencing phase of the trial.  He warned them (according to the Parole Board’s report) that, if they issued a sentence of death, “what comes around goes around”.  No mitigating evidence was presented, and, not surprisingly, the jury came back quickly with a sentence of death.

Such bad, angry lawyering is reason enough to commute Shawn Hawkins’ death sentence, but beyond that, this is a case, like Kevin Keith or Troy Davis, where, due to the flimsiness of the evidence, doubts about guilt continue to fester.  As one juror endorsing clemency told the Ohio Parole Board: “I wish it was more overwhelming that he was guilty.”

Or, as the Ohio Parole Board concluded in recommending that the death sentence be commuted:

“The Board is not confident in the death sentence in this case, but is also not convinced that Shawn Hawkins is innocent.  Given all of the above, the Board believes the exercise of executive clemency is warranted.”

Indeed, for Shawn Hawkins, and for many others facing execution whose cases are riddled with unresolvable doubts, granting clemency and commuting the death sentence is not only warranted. It is a necessity.