COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A condemned Ohio inmate who weighs 450 pounds should be spared based on claims raising doubts about his legal representation, not because he says he's so fat he can't be humanely executed, the Ohio Parole Board ruled Friday.
The board rejected arguments made by attorneys for Ronald Post that he deserves mercy because of lingering doubts about his "legal and moral guilt" in a woman's death, but it said it couldn't ignore perceived missteps by lawyers in his case.
The board's recommendation, by a vote of 5-3, goes to Gov. John Kasich, who has the final say. Post is scheduled to die Jan. 16 for killing Elyria motel clerk Helen Vantz in a 1983 robbery.
"Post took Vantz's life, devastating the lives of her loved ones in the process," the board said. But it said a majority of its members agreed that his sentence should be commuted to life in prison without chance of parole because of omissions, missed opportunities and questionable decisions made by his previous attorneys and because that legal representation didn't meet expectations for a death penalty case.
His current attorneys said they were pleased by the recommendation.
"In the nearly 30 years since his case began, Ronald Post has too often been failed by the attorneys assigned to represent him, beginning at his trial," public defenders Joe Wilhelm and Rachel Troutman said in a statement.
Post is also fighting his execution on the grounds that he is so fat he can't be humanely executed and will suffer cruel and unusual punishment as the state struggles to find his veins or give him enough drugs to put someone his size to death. A federal judge hears arguments in that case Monday.
Vantz's sons, William and Michael, both attended last week's parole board hearing, where both said they believe firmly in Post's guilt. William Vantz also had harsh words for Post's obesity claim.
"It's just another way for a coward to try and get out of what debt he owes to society," Vantz said.
The long-held presumption that Post confessed to the murder to several people has been falsely exaggerated, Post's attorneys argued. Post admitted involvement in the crime as the get-away driver to a police informant but did not admit to the killing.
"Sure ain't no murderer," Post told that informant, according to Post's clemency filing.
Doubt about Post's guilt lingers because of the involvement of two other men in the shooting, Post's attorneys argue. Post pleaded no contest to the crime on the advice of his attorney in expectation he would receive a life sentence, the attorneys argue. Even after his plea, he told a psychologist "he was not a murderer."
The attorneys argue that prosecutors misrepresented to the judge that Post had confessed to sole involvement in Vantz's death.
They also say a police detective served as a "double agent" on the case, performing a lie detector test on Post for the defense team while working for the state to perform a similar test on an alleged conspirator in the motel shooting. The detective, "an agent of Post's defense team, violated a basic duty of loyalty and confidentiality to Post," the inmate's attorneys said.
"Lingering doubts exist about the degree of Ronald Post's legal and moral guilt," the public defenders told the board in a written request for mercy.
"The death penalty should be reserved for cases where proof of guilt is reliable and the legal system produced a just result," they said. "Neither criteria is met in this case."
The Lorain County prosecutor argues that Post was the killer and as evidence points to Post's written no-contest plea in which he acknowledged responsibility for the crime.
That admission is "a compelling reason" why the board should reject clemency, Lorain County prosecutor Dennis Will said in a filing to the board before the hearing. Will didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Friday.
"Even though some of Post's personal admissions of criminal actions did not include an express and explicit personal admission that he was the shooter of Helen Vantz, all of Post's admissions amount to a confession by Post that he committed crimes at the Slumber Inn," Will wrote.
He also noted that Post signed a document prepared by the detective who conducted the lie detector test acknowledging he killed Vantz.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko contributed to this report.