Strickland commutes death row inmate's sentence to life without parole, The Columbus Dispatch

Gov. Ted Strickland has spared the life of Kevin Keith, who was scheduled to be executed in two weeks for a triple murder in Bucyrus in 1994.

Strickland this afternoon commuted Keith's sentence to life without the possibility of parole. In doing so, Strickland rejected an 8-0 recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board that Keith should be executed.

Keith, 46, was to be lethally injected Sept. 15 for murdering two women and a four-year-old girl by spraying a Bucyrus apartment with bullets as revenge against a drug informant.

He has long claimed that he is innocent and sought a full pardon from the governor -- even though courts at all levels have affirmed his guilt and the death sentence. Keith's defense team argued that the lack of physical evidence no carpet fibers, DNA or fingerprints on a gun meant the conviction relied on "questionable" testimony from an adult and two children who survived the attack.

The controversial nature of Keith's case attracted support from high-profile individuals and organizations, including John Q. Lewis of the Jones Day law firm of Cleveland who worked on his defense for free, former Republican Attorney General Jim Petro, and the national president of the Innocence Network.

Strickland, a Democrat seeking re-election this fall, set the stage for his clemency decision in an interview with The Dispatch last month in which he said the case "has circumstances that I find troubling." He said his legal staff had been looking into circumstances of the case for weeks.

It was the second time in the last three murder cases set for execution that the governor spared the life of the convicted killer. He spared the life of Richard Nields in June, but allowed Roderick Davie to be executed in August.

It was also the second time Strickland rebuffed the parole board's recommendation in a capital case. He allowed the execution of Jason Getsy to go forward in August 2009 even though the board voted to spare his life.

Keith, who was involved in the cocaine trade in the Bucyrus area, was convicted for killing 24-year-old Marichell Chatman, her 4-year-old daughter, Marchae, and the girl's aunt, Linda Chatman, 39. Three others were injured in the gunfire.