By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio Governor John Kasich on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of a man scheduled to be executed July 26, marking the third time in 13 months the first-term Republican has halted a death sentence.
John Jeffrey Eley was convicted for shooting Ihsan Aydah dead during a 1986 robbery in Youngstown, Ohio. Eley confessed to the killing and was sentenced to death in 1987 after withdrawing a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Kasich commuted Eley's sentence despite the advice of the Ohio Parole Board, which voted not to grant clemency. Both the prosecutor and the lead detective in Eley's case told the parole board they had misgivings about the death penalty sentence.
Kasich said in a statement that although Eley, who has limited mental capacity, admitted to participating in Aydah's murder, he was under the direction of another man who was later acquitted.
"Without those factors it is doubtful that Eley would have committed this crime," Kasich's statement said.
Eley's sentence was commuted to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Last year, Kasich also commuted the death sentences of two other men to life in prison without possibility of parole after the Ohio Parole Board recommended clemency.
The death penalty in Ohio came under question in July 2011 when a federal judge issued a stay of execution for an inmate and called the state's practices haphazard. In April, the judge declared that the state had adequately fixed its procedures and allowed the execution of Mark Wiles to go forward April 18.
Ohio executed five people in 2011. It has commuted the sentences of 17 people since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that three commutations in a little more than a year is "unusual," but these cases had "particular facts" that argued for clemency
He noted that in Ohio, some cases now coming up for execution were tried 15-20 years ago, when standards were different.
"I think it's not so much the individual governor or decision maker but society's standards that have changed on this ...," Dieter said. "It's saying that if this case were tried today, they probably wouldn't get the death penalty."
(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Christopher Wilson)