By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio Governor John Kasich on Monday commuted the death sentence of an inmate who had sought mercy because he is obese, saying the man's legal representation was not adequate and he should spend the rest of his life in prison.
Kasich has now commuted the death sentences of four inmates since he took office in 2011, sparing two inmates from execution in 2012.
Ronald Post, 53, who weighs more than 450 pounds, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on January 16 for the aggravated murder in 1983 of motel desk clerk Helen Vantz during a robbery.
A parole board panel recommended on Friday that his death sentence be commuted, finding that numerous omissions, missed opportunities and questionable decisions by defense attorneys warranted a life sentence. Kasich agreed.
"Regardless of the heinous nature of their crime, a criminal defendant is entitled to an effective defense, especially in a death penalty case," Kasich said in a statement. "The Parole Board's conclusion is that Ronald Post did not come close to receiving such a defense. After my own careful review, I agree."
Post had been sentenced to death by a three-judge panel in 1985 for Vantz's murder after entering a plea of no-contest.
Post's lawyers argued that previous counsel should not have advised him to enter a no contest plea without assurances he would not face the death penalty. Their failure to go to trial precluded some appeals based on his contention that prosecutors misrepresented evidence of his confessions, they said.
Post told the clemency board he never confessed to killing Vantz, as prosecutors portrayed, and had only confessed to driving a man who he said committed the crime to the motel and waiting in a vehicle outside.
The parole board panel found that none of the missteps taken individually would warrant commutation, but taken together, his execution would not be in the best interests of Ohio.
Post had previously appealed unsuccessfully to stop his execution on a claim that his extreme weight created a substantial risk that he would have a "torturous and lingering death" if executed by lethal injection.
In June, Kasich went against a parole board recommendation and commuted convicted killer John Eley's death sentence to life without parole after the original prosecutor and lead detective said they had misgivings about his death sentence due in part to his limited mental capacity.
Kasich also ordered life sentences without parole in 2011 to condemned inmates Shawn Hawkins and Joseph Murphy after clemency recommendations for both men from the parole board. (Reporting by Kim Palmer; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Dan Grebler)