The Herald Bulletin

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July 9, 2013

In twist, prosecutors seek mercy for condemned man

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Both prosecutors and defense attorneys asked the Ohio Parole Board on Monday to spare a condemned killer who stabbed a neighbor 17 times, making a rare joint appeal for mercy based on the inmate's youth at the time of his killing and his history of drug and alcohol abuse.

A divided board ruled against clemency two years ago for Billy Slagle, but that was before the election of new Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty and a change in his office's approach to capital punishment.

McGinty is applying new criteria to both old and new death penalty cases, and one of those elements is whether a death sentence could be obtained today, assistant prosecutor Matthew Meyer told the board.

"The fact that the prosecutorial team does not feel confident that under today's guidelines and today's law we can achieve death, we will not come before this board or before the victims and say that death has to be the way this case should end up," Meyer said.

Meyer said the decision to recommend mercy was not meant to diminish the heinous facts of the 1987 death of Mari Anne Pope, who was killed while two young children she was watching were in the house.

Slagle's attorneys said his brain was broken by drug and alcohol abuse by the time he committed the crime that sent him to death row.

"Billy was exposed to alcohol from the womb to the crime," Joe Wilhelm, a federal public defender, said at the hearing.

Attorneys for Slagle, 44, have long argued his sentence should be commuted to life without parole, citing his age — at 18, he was the minimum age for execution in Ohio when the crime happened — and a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.

Last week, McGinty reversed his office's long-standing position on the case and said he was also asking Slagle's sentence be commuted. Since life without parole was not an option at the time, jurors made the only choice they could to ensure Slagle would never be freed, McGinty said.

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