Clemency Granted for Shawn Hawkins: What about the rest?

by Susan Lakes

Ohio has the unique distinction of being a northern state that has an active execution list, and active groups fighting to stop executions, according to Sister Alice Gerdeman, who coordinates the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati.

An arm of the center, Families That Matter, has reason to celebrate since Shawn Hawkins is alive today. His execution date was set for June 15, but Governor John Kasich followed the unanimous recommendation of the parole board, and commuted his death sentence to life in prison without parole.

“In this case, at least a life was saved,” Gerdeman said during an interview on the very day Hawkins would have died.

Hawkins, 42, was the first death row inmate granted clemency by the newly elected Republican governor. Three executions went ahead as scheduled.

The news that Hawkin’s life had been spared came as no surprise to Gerdeman and staff, “we were expecting it,” she said.

The governor’s office released the following statement about the Hawkins case.

“There is no doubt that the defendant played a significant, material role in the heinous crime, but precise details of that role are frustratingly unclear to the point that Ohio shouldn’t deliver the ultimate penalty in this case. Therefore, I am ordering that he spend the rest of his life in prison and have no chance of ever getting out. As someone who has experienced sud¬den and tragic loss, I know the pain that comes with losing loved ones. My prayers go out to the families of Diamond Marteen and Terrance Richard in the hope that they may find peace.”

Hawkins was indicted for the aggravated murders of Richard and Marteen in 1989, tried before a jury and sentenced to death. He’s been behind bars for nearly 22 years.

Hawkins’ life was spared, but had the execution gone on as planned, Gerdeman and other anti-death penalty advocates would have been outside the facility, holding a prayer vigil.

“We pray for the warden, the execution team, the governor, the legislature, the community members and both families,” she said.

If the state proceeds with every schedule execution this year, Ohio will land second in number of people killed, with only Texas having more. Thirty-four US states have death penalties and 16 do not. Illinois repealed its death sentence a few months ago, and New Mexico did the same in 2009.

Map of U.S. states that still have the death penalty. Figure by Harrison Lott
Here is Ohio’s execution schedule as it stands right now, but the dates are subject to legal developments. Clemency proceedings are automatic for inmates on death row, according to information from the governor’s office. The Supreme Court of Ohio schedules executions after the state of Ohio moves to set a date.

•Kenneth Wayne Smith – Clemency hearing date is June 23, and the scheduled execution date is July 19.
•Brett Xavier Hartman – Clemency hearing date is July 12, and the scheduled execution is August 16.
•Billy Slagle – Clemency hearing is August 24, and the scheduled execution is September 20.
•Joseph Murphy – Clemency hearing is September 15, and the scheduled execution date is October 18.
•Reginald Brooks – Clemency hearing date is to be arranged, and the schedule execution date is No¬vember 15.
Inmates that have been executed since Governor Kasich took office include Frank Spisak, Johnnie Baston, Clarence Carter and Daniel Bedford.

Each time an execution takes place, Sister Alice and other anti-death penalty advocates hold prayer vigil time outside the prison in Lucasville where executions take place.

“The system itself is totally broken,” Gerdeman said, adding that having a death penalty sentence means society is acting out of lowest rather than highest instincts. When asked if she has some words of advice for the governor, she’d tell him to support legislation that abolishes death sentences.

Alternatives to death, according to Gerdeman, include life in prison with parole or life sentences with¬out parole for those individuals who would pose dangers if allowed to return to society.

Hawkins status right now is life in prison without the possibility of pa¬role. But he maintains his innocence. His parents Chuck and Judy Hogan said steps are underway to file appeals so that he can be retried and eventually set free to return home. They believe he’s innocent too. So does Gerdeman.