COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ross Geiger had doubts about recommending a death sentence 20 years ago for a convicted Ohio killer, concerned about the impact of the offender’s tough childhood on his behavior.
But ultimately, Geiger voted in favor of death for Raymond Tibbetts for killing a Cincinnati man he was staying with.
Today, Geiger has changed his mind. After reviewing documents made available during Tibbetts’ clemency appeal last year, Geiger believes he and other jurors were misled about the “truly terrible conditions” of Tibbetts’ upbringing.
On Jan. 30, Geiger asked Gov. John Kasich to spare Tibbetts, who is set for execution Feb. 13.
“After reviewing the material, from the perspective of an original juror, I have deep concerns about the trial and the way it transpired,” Geiger wrote in a letter to the governor. “This is why I am asking you to be merciful.”
Geiger said he didn’t feel like he had a choice at the time.
“I felt persuaded the law required me to vote for death in this circumstance,” he told the Associated Press.
The Republican governor is reviewing Tibbetts’ clemency request, said spokesman Jon Keeling.
Tibbetts, 60, was sentenced to die for stabbing Fred Hicks to death at Hicks’ home in 1997. Tibbetts also received life imprisonment for fatally beating and stabbing his wife, 42-year-old Judith Crawford, during an argument that same day over Tibbetts’ crack cocaine habit.
The 67-year-old Hicks had hired Crawford as a caretaker and allowed the couple to stay with him.
Hamilton County prosecutors have argued that Tibbetts’ background doesn’t outweigh his crimes. That includes stabbing Crawford after he’d already beaten her to death, then repeatedly stabbing Hicks, a “sick, defenseless, hearing-impaired man in whose home Tibbetts lived,” they told the parole board.
“In nearly every case this board reviews, inmates assert that their poor childhoods, drugs, or some other reason mitigate their actions,” Ron Springman, an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, told the board in a 2017 filing. “The mitigation in this case does not overcome the brutality of these murders.”
The parole board voted 11-1 last year against mercy. A message was left with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office about Geiger’s letter.
Jurors heard “mostly anecdotal stories” from a psychiatrist called on Tibbetts’ behalf about his troubled childhood and poor foster care, Geiger told Kasich.
Geiger said he was shocked last month reading testimony presented at Tibbetts’ clemency hearing about the conditions Tibbetts and his siblings lived through in foster care.
At night, Tibbetts and his brothers were tied to a single bed at the foster home, weren’t fed properly, were thrown down stairs, had their fingers beaten with spatulas and were burned on heating registers, according to Tibbetts’ application for mercy last year.
Geiger told Kasich he was angered to see such material, which jurors had never been presented.
During the 1998 trial, Geiger managed people processing health insurance claims. He described himself as a conservative Republican at the time.
Today he’s a commercial banker who voted for President Donald Trump, “a pro-growth, economic liberty kind of guy.”
He says he made the decision to write Kasich on his own. He also feels sympathy for Tibbetts’ victims, who deserve justice, he said.
“In a selfish way this is about my feeling duped by the system,” Geiger said. “The state asked me to carry the responsibility for such a decision but withheld information from me that was important.”
Geiger’s letter matters because the parole board wasn’t aware of his regrets when it ruled against Tibbetts, said Erin Barnhart, a federal public defender representing the inmate.
“Kasich is the only person who has the ability to act on it at this point,” Barnhart said.
In 2008, the Oklahoma governor spared death row inmate Kevin Young based on the recommendation of the state parole board. The board heard recorded statements from jurors who said they didn’t want to sentence Young to death but didn’t receive clarification when they asked whether Young would be eligible for parole if sentenced to life without parole.
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