CINCINNATI — A death row inmate convicted of murdering a child and two adults was spared the death penalty Thursday by Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, who said there were possible problems with the evidence.
A diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, attorneys general and federal and state judges and prosecutors had rallied around the case of the inmate, Kevin Keith, 46, after his lawyers uncovered evidence they say casts doubt on his guilt.
In commuting the death sentence, Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, said that he believed it was still likely that Mr. Keith committed the murders, but that he was troubled by the likelihood that evidence uncovered since his conviction would not be presented to a court before the scheduled Sept. 15 execution.
“That would be unfortunate,” Mr. Strickland said in a statement. “This case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court. Under these circumstances, I cannot allow Mr. Keith to be executed.”
The request for a commutation from the governor was the last resort for Mr. Keith, who lost numerous appeals in state courts and whose case was not considered by the United States Supreme Court. The parole board in Ohio unanimously rejected his clemency request in August. Mr. Strickland, who can commute sentences or issue full pardons, said he would consider further action if it was justified by the evidence.
Mr. Keith, 46, was convicted of murdering two women and a 4-year-old girl and wounding a man and two children in February 1994. Prosecutors said he had sprayed gunfire through an apartment in Bucyrus, Ohio, to retaliate against a relative of some of the victims, an informer who had cooperated with a drug raid.
Defense lawyers say another man told a confidential informer in a separate drug investigation that he had been hired for $15,000 to “cripple” the informer. They say the photo lineup in which Mr. Keith was identified was prejudiced because his photo was larger than the others, the photos were presented by police officers who knew Mr. Keith was a suspect, and the photos were displayed simultaneously rather than sequentially.