Originally posted by ACLU of Ohio.
In the second time in as many months, Governor John Kasich has intervened to stop an execution. Today, he commuted John Jeffrey Eley’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Eley was scheduled to be executed on July 26.
From the beginning, Jeff Eley’s case has been fraught with concerns over his mental capacity and whether his actions warranted the death penalty. According to his family and friends, Jeff has always been considered “slow.” Older IQ tests show he has an IQ of 82, though his attorneys contend those tests may not be accurate and it is much lower. Jeff’s life changed when he met Melvin Green, a well-known criminal who was suspected by police in other violent crimes.
On August 26, 1986, Green convinced Jeff to hold up a local convenience store. Green gave Jeff a gun, and warned him that the shopkeeper kept a firearm behind the register. When they entered the store, Ihsan Aydah, the storeowner, reached for his gun and Jeff shot him.
Jeff confessed immediately. Police and prosecutors had eyed Green for years in other violent crimes, and wanted to convict him. They charged Jeff with capital offenses in the hopes that he would testify against Green, but he refused. His attorneys maintain that Jeff’s mental illness and borderline intellectual functioning complicated their ability to gather evidence that he is incompetent, and he has never been fully diagnosed or evaluated. Green was sentenced to a lesser crime, and is now eligible for parole.
Jeff’s case has led to an unlikely alliance between defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges. At his clemency hearing, former prosecutor in the case Gary Van Brocklin testified against executing Jeff. Van Brocklin said he had “no problem asking for the death penalty in a proper case” but said “[Eley’s case] wasn't in the more heinous nature of cases that now receive the death penalty."
Judge Peter Economus, one of three judges who sentenced Jeff to death, testified that he was never presented evidence about Jeff’s life or mental capacity, and if he had, would not have sentenced him to death.
Luckily, the prosecutor and judge’s powerful testimony helped save Jeff Eley.
Ohio, once a state with record numbers of executions, has seen executions slow considerably lately. Governor Kasich also postponed the June execution of Abdul Awkal after attorneys raised serious concerns over his mental health. According to two psychiatrists who have interviewed him, “Awkal is schizophrenic, believes the CIA communicates with him through a television set, and suspects he is condemned because the spy agency is upset with him.” After Kasich’s last-minute reprieve, a court found he was too mentally incompetent to be executed. The Ohio Supreme Court followed suit, and indefinitely postponed Abdul’s execution.
In 2012 alone, Ohio has had a de facto moratorium on executions because of its “haphazard” lethal injection process, and now two men are spared because of questions over their competency. It begs the question: with so many problems, why is Ohio still in the business of executing people?
Read our Action Alert, issued prior to Governor Kasich's decision to commute John Jeffrey Eley.