Saying there were “fundamental flaws” in his sentencing, Ohio Gov. John Kasich commuted Raymond Tibbetts’ death sentence to life without parole late last month.
The governor was referring to the fact that jurors never heard about Tibbetts’ horrific childhood during his trial for the 1997 murders of his 42-year-old wife, Judith Crawford, and landlord, 67-year-old Fred Hicks. Tibbetts was sentenced to death for the murder of Hicks, and life without parole for Crawford’s killing.
He was scheduled to be executed last February, but that was delayed when juror Ross Geiger decided to check on Tibbetts’ status in January, and found a clemency request filed by his attorneys and learned that Tibbetts had had a horrific childhood, starting at the age of 14 months when he was sent to the first of several foster homes and juvenile facilities where he was brutally abused and neglected. He began abusing drugs and alcohol in his early teens, and had checked himself into mental health facilities on two separate occasions. He was briefly sober at one point only to relapse when he was prescribed painkillers for a work injury in the mid-1990s and began abusing opioids. Shocked, Geiger wrote a letter to Gov. John Kasich saying that aside from brief testimony from a psychiatrist who told “anecdotal stories that Tibbets had a tough upbringing related to inattentive parents and poor foster care,” the jury never heard of the abuse, neglect, and mental illness he and his siblings suffered. Saying if he had known, he would never have voted for death, Geiger asked Kasich to grant Tibbetts clemency.
Kasich, a Republican, responded by postponing Tibbetts’ February execution to October. But late last month, after the Ohio parole board voted 8-1 against clemency, Kasich commuted Tibbetts’ sentence, saying in a statement, “The defense’s failure to present sufficient mitigating evidence, coupled with an inaccurate description of Tibbetts’s childhood by the prosecution, essentially prevented the jury from making an informed decision about whether Tibbetts deserved the death penalty.”
This was Kasich’s seventh commutation in his two terms as governor, “a modern-era record,” according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The paper reports that the last governor to commute multiple death sentences was Democrat Mike DiSalle, who spared the lives of six death row prisoners.
Fifteen men have been executed during Kasich’s two terms, the most recent being Robert Van Hook, who was executed July 18, two days before Tibbetts’ commutation was announced.