Gov. John Kasich on Monday commuted the death sentence of convicted killer Ronald Ray Post to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Post, 53, had been scheduled to be executed Jan. 16 for the murder of Elyria motel clerk Helen Vantz during a robbery of the Slumber Inn on Dec. 15, 1983.
Kasich cited concerns about the legal representation Post received in his decision to grant clemency, something the Ohio Parole Board had recommended in a split vote Friday.
“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.”
William Vantz, one of Helen Vantz’s sons, said his family was disappointed.
“It’s a theft of justice from my mother, my family, friends and the people of Ohio,” Vantz said. “I will take some solace in the fact that he will die in prison and he is already dead to me. It’s a shame that the board and the governor did not see through the lies that were told to the Parole Board.”
Post’s attorneys, Assistant Federal Public Defender Joseph Wilhem and Assistant Ohio Public Defender Rachel Troutman, had argued that Post’s trial attorneys failed their client by allowing him to enter a no-contest plea without a guarantee that it would spare him a death sentence.
Wilhelm and Troutman said in a joint statement that they were pleased by Kasich’s decision.
“As the Parole Board noted in its report, Mr. Post received legal representation that was nowhere near adequate, beginning at his trial and extending into his appeals,” Wilhelm and Troutman said. “The Parole Board and the governor rightly recognized that, in cases in which the state seeks to execute one of its citizens, our justice system simply must work better than it did in Mr. Post’s case.”
Post’s trial attorneys, Mike Duff and now-retired Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Lynett McGough, appeared to have relied on a belief that then-county Judge Adrian Betleski’s Catholic faith would prevent him from imposing the death penalty, Troutman and Wilhelm argued.
And while McGough, who did not return a call seeking comment Monday, had urged Post to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, Duff wanted Post to take the no-contest plea to preserve an appeals issue, according to the Parole Board’s recommendation.
Duff said Monday that Kasich’s decision to spare Post amounted to enforcement of the plea deal reached nearly three decades.
“I feel elated and happy for Ron Post. It’s a sad case all the way around for the Vantz family and the Post family, but at least he got what he bargained for — life in prison,” Duff said.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he didn’t feel that Post’s current lawyers made a convincing argument that any problems with his legal representation trumped the crimes their client committed.
He also warned that the clemency decision could set a bad precedent in future cases in which the Parole Board took issue with how trial lawyers did their jobs.
Post’s attorneys also had argued that while Post had been involved in the robbery of Helen Vantz as a getaway driver, he wasn’t the one who actually shot the 53-year-old mother as she worked on the motel’s receipts. Instead, they placed the blame for the shooting on Ralph Hall, an argument rejected by the Parole Board and prosecutors.
“This decision should not be viewed by anyone as a diminishing of this awful crime or the pain it has caused,” Kasich said in his statement.
Post also has argued that the state would be unable to execute him in the quick and painless manner required by Ohio law using the current lethal injection protocols because of his weight and other medical problems.
One federal judge rejected that argument and a second had scheduled arguments on the issue.
Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, said Post’s weight wasn’t a factor considered by the governor in his clemency decision.
Now that he is no longer a condemned man, Post will be reclassified by the prison system, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.
Post is currently housed at the Franklin Medical Center, the state’s prison hospital, and will remain there due to his medical issues, Smith said. She said she couldn’t discuss what those issues were.
Lorain County still has two condemned inmates on death row, Freddie McNeill and Stanley Jalowiec, both of whom are contesting their death sentences in state and federal courts.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.