By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - An Ohio state parole board recommended on Friday that an obese Ohio inmate, who had sought to halt his execution over his weight, should have his sentence commuted to life in prison due to concerns over his legal representation.
Ronald Post, 53, was sentenced to death by a three-judge panel in 1985 for the 1983 aggravated murder of a hotel clerk after entering a plea of no contest. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on January 16.
A spokesman for Governor John Kasich said he had not yet decided how to act on the clemency petition.
The board, in its recommendation to the governor, said Post had "perpetrated a horrendous crime" but that numerous omissions, missed opportunities and questionable decisions by defense attorneys warranted a life sentence.
None of the missteps taken individually would warrant the commutation, but taken together, his execution would not be in the best interests of Ohio, the board found.
Post's lawyers have argued that previous counsel should not have advised him to enter a no contest plea without assurances he would not face a death sentence, and that their failure to go to trial derailed some appeals based on his contention that prosecutors misrepresented evidence of his confessions.
The prosecution contended that Post confessed to the murder to multiple people, and once arrested, tried to pay others to kill witnesses.
Post told the clemency board he never confessed to killing clerk Helen Vantz in Elyria, Ohio, as the prosecution portrayed, and that he had only confessed to involvement in the crime.
Post's lawyers had previously argued unsuccessfully that his weight, of more than 450 pounds, in combination with the state's use of lethal injection, created a "substantial risk for serious and psychological pain" and a "torturous and lingering death."
They have said Post's obesity would make it hard to find a vein for a lethal injection and that Ohio's alternate method, an intramuscular injection, might not kill him because of his weight.
The board voted 5 to 3 to recommend commutation of the sentence. Those who opposed commutation said Post confessed to a cold-blooded crime, lacks remorse, and that the questionable defense decisions did not outweigh the circumstances.
(Editing by David Bailey, Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom)