Wednesday 11 August 2010 guardian.co.uk
Doubts over murder conviction of Kevin Keith fuel demands for reconsideration of death penalty in Ohio
An unlikely coalition of death penalty backers and opponents, including conservative politicians and former judges, is attempting to prevent the execution of an Ohio man they say was wrongly convicted of murdering a young child and two women.
Suggestions that police fabricated evidence against Kevin Keith, 46, has led the group to urge Ohio's governor to spare him should his parole board hearing fail.
The case is also fuelling demands for a rethink of the death penalty in Ohio, which carries out the second highest number of executions in the US.
The group is urging the Ohio governor, Ted Strickland, to spare the life of Keith, who is scheduled to plead for a pardon or a new trial.
If the board rejects the appeal, Strickland will have to decide whether Keith will be executed by lethal injection in September after 16 years on death row.
The case is fuelling demands for a rethink of the death penalty in Ohio, which carries out the second highest number of executions in the US after Texas.
More than 30 former prosecutors and judges are pressing Strickland to free Keith or order a new trial.
Among them is Jim Petro, a former Ohio attorney general and Republican who supports the death penalty. "I am gravely concerned that the state of Ohio may be on the verge of executing an innocent person," he said in a letter to the governor.
Herbert Brown, a former justice in Ohio's supreme court, also wrote to Strickland. "There is a mass of exculpatory evidence, suppressed evidence, faulty eyewitness identification and forensic reports that support legitimate claims of innocence," he said.
Keith was convicted of breaking into a flat and spraying it with bullets. Police found four-year-old Machae Chatman dead alongside her mother and aunt. Two other children survived, as did Richard Warren, who provided the eyewitness testimony that convicted Keith.
At the trial, Keith was accused of murdering the Chatmans because one of their relatives was an informant who had identified him as a drug dealer.
Keith said he had a watertight alibi – four people said he had been at his aunt's house, 12 miles from the crime scene. But the jury convicted him.
Critics have suggested police fabricated a crucial piece of evidence. Keith's trial was told a nurse who treated Warren said he had identified his attacker as someone called Kevin.
After the trial, however, no nurse could be found with the name given by the police officer who made the claim, and the nurse who treated Warren said she had never had any such conversation.
Keith is optimistic that he will be saved from execution. "I don't want to die, but I don't want life without parole either," he told Ohio's Columbus Dispatch newspaper.
"I want out. I'm innocent. I want a life, but I'm afraid to let myself think about what that might be like ,because it will hurt that much more if it doesn't happen."
Clemency For Kevin Keith
The State of Ohio is poised to execute Kevin Keith on September 15, 2010, in spite
of overwhelming evidence supporting what Mr. Keith has maintained from the time of
his arrest – he is actually innocent, wrongfully convicted of a crime based on
faulty eyewitness identification.
Mr. Keith has an alibi for the time of the crime supported by four witnesses.
The Ohio Innocence Project, the National Innocence Network, and a group of leading
eyewitness and memory experts all support relief for Mr. Keith.
I urgently appeal to the Ohio Parole Board and Governor Ted Strickland to grant
clemency to Kevin Keith to prevent the State of Ohio from doing the intolerable:
putting a man to death for a crime he did not commit.
The primary evidence against Mr. Keith was the erroneous eyewitness identification
of one of the surviving victims of the crime, who identified Mr. Keith in spite of
initially telling at least four witnesses that he was unable to identify the
perpetrator. This identification of Mr. Keith relied on the very procedures
recognized to be unreliable and inaccurate by Governor Strickland and the Ohio
Legislature when the State passed into law in April new requirements for eyewitness
New evidence recently uncovered by counsel for Mr. Keith further discredits the
identification. Thirteen years after he was convicted, Mr. Keith discovered that one
of the State’s supposed “witnesses” – who was critical to corroborating the
legitimacy of the eyewitness identification – does not actually exist.
Additional new evidence also implicates an alternative suspect who told a police
informant that he was paid to carry out the crime for which Mr. Keith stands to be
No court has ever had the entirety of new evidence before it.
More information on the case can be found at: www.kevinkeith.org.
Mr. Keith has steadfastly maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest and
throughout his 16 years on death row. The State of Ohio now risks putting to death
an innocent man with no jury ever hearing the entirety of evidence of innocence.
I appeal to the Ohio Parole Board and Governor Strickland to grant clemency to Kevin