By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio man convicted of killing a Cleveland produce vendor will leave death row after more than three decades and less than a month before his scheduled execution, but spend the rest of his life in prison, Governor John Kasich said Wednesday.
Arthur Tyler, 54, had been scheduled to be executed on May 28, but a state parole board panel recommended that Kasich grant him clemency in part because of questions over whether he had killed Sander Leach, 74, or was simply present when it happened.
Prosecutors had also recommended clemency, saying they would not have sought the death penalty if similar evidence were presented today in the case of Tyler, who has been working as a barber at an Ohio state prison while awaiting execution.
"The questions that continue around this case are fundamental, and the irregularities in the court proceedings are troubling," Kasich said in a statement.
Kasich said his commutation of Tyler's sentence in no way diminished the heinousness of the crime he committed.
Tyler was convicted in 1983 of robbing and killing Leach and sentenced to death. The conviction was reversed, but Tyler was convicted a second time and sentenced to death again in 1986.
Defense attorneys said a codefendant shot Leach, who sold produce out of a van, and had identified Tyler as the gunman in exchange for prosecutors' taking the death penalty off the table in his case. The codefendant pleaded guilty and served 25 years in prison before being paroled.
Six parole board members said Tyler should be immediately eligible for parole and five said he should become eligible for parole in two years in part to make Tyler's sentence more proportionate to that imposed on his codefendant.
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by David Bailey and Prudence Crowther)