Bytes Back Archives: Dirty Little Secrets (Death Row)

by Bob Fitrakis

The death penalty is primarily political. It’s about power: who gets killed; and who gets elected prosecutor, judge, attorney general and governor. You may recall our own Dewey Stokes, Franklin County Commissioner, ran pro-death penalty commercials although it is totally unrelated to his office. No doubt Dewey wants to fry all the Hueys and Louies on death row, but what about Attorney General Betty MontgomeryÑ “The Great Expediter”? Betty wants to hide “the dirty little secrets” of Ohio’s death row by speeding up the executions. But those of us who are more concerned with justice than expediency, or Ms. Montgomery’s political future, need to expose her secrets.

Secret #1. Tony Apanovitch, a small time crook, stands convicted of rape and murder based on circumstantial evidence. Apanovitch is a top priority of the Central Ohio Amnesty International organization. The prosecution withheld crucial evidence that surely would have caused a jury to conclude that there was “reasonable doubt.” For example, Apanovitch voluntarily supplied hair, blood and saliva samples to the police. Police investigators recorded that the samples were “not consistent” with the killer. A hair found on the victim did not match hers or Apanovitch’s. But the hair was consistent with a serial rapist that had attacked and brutalized six women in the same neighborhood. Also, police investigators confirmed Apanovitch’s alibi of his whereabouts the night of the murder, but failed as required under law to inform Apanovitch’s lawyer. Moreover, the prosecutor, eager for a win, misinformed the jury about the odds of Apanovitch’s semenÑ”type A”Ñbeing found in the victim. It seems the prosecutor failed to mention that the victim was also a “type A” secretor, making the evidence meaningless. Apanovitch has been on death row for 12 years, and is seeking a new trial that would undoubtedly free him.

Secret #2. John G. Spirko Jr. was convicted on circumstantial evidence of murdering Elgin, Ohio’s postmaster Betty Jean Mottinger. Unlike the O.J. Simpson case, there was no physical evidence linking Spirko to the death scene. Former Ohio Public Defender Randall Dana stated that public defenders were “…convinced that, for whatever reason, the Postal Department had set about proving this guy did it ÑSpirko did itÑwhen in fact, someone else was guilty.” Former investigator Chester “Briss” Craig produced a notarized affidavit dated March 17, 1988 from William Green, a prisoner in the Marion Correctional Institution, swearing that his cellmate, John Willier, confessed in the great detail to the killing of Betty Mottinger. Green’s affidavit reads: “When John Willier related this aforesaid account of the kidnapping and killing of the post mistress to me, he was crying and appeared to be in an emotionally overwrought state.” Spirko was scheduled to die on January 5, 1995, but received a stay of execution and his case has since been picked up “pro bono” by a prominent Washington, D.C. firm.

Secret #3. There may be at least 14 other Apanovitchs and Spirkos on Ohio’s death row. In January 1992, Chester Craig filed a formal complaint with the Ohio Inspector General that reads “Some of our investigators previously assigned to Ohio Public Defender’s clients before they were convicted had not met with or conducted any kind of investigation on behalf of these clients….” Craig has personally identified to this writer the names of the following death row inmates who may not have received due process as required by the U.S. Constitution: David Steffen, Ernest Martin, John William Byrd, Michael Bueke, Billie Joe Sowell, Robert Buell, Gregory Esparza, Donald Williams, William A. Zuern, Rhett de Pew, William Wickline Jr., Alfred J. Morales, Martin Rojas, and Jeff Lundgren.

Craig claimed, “…Many of these clients, mostly black, indicated they had never heard the name of the investigator mentioned and that they had never met with such person.” Craig concluded that investigators for the Public Defender’s Office where he was a supervisor, “were turning in false time reports and were not providing the support services to the attorneys as required.” A 1994 report by the Office of Investigative Services substantially supports Craig’s allegations. Additionally, Linda Leisure, who worked for one of the investigators, told the Columbus Free Press in January 1995 that she was asked “to falsify time reports and interviews on these murder cases.”

Unlike O.J., who with six lawyers and millions of dollars won acquittal, or the Menendez brothers, whose vast fortunes allowed them to skirt the death penalty despite their confessions, Apanovitch and the others who have little money cannot afford simple justice under our system. They can’t buy the Dream Team lawyers, expert witnesses and top notch investigators. If O.J. were poor, all an Ohio prosecutor would’ve had to say to a jury is: “This is undeniably the hair of a black man in this glove.” Guilty as charged. And he would’ve gotten the death penalty for killing an upper-class white woman. If his victim had been another poor black man, maybe he would have gotten four years in prison.

That’s why we need to go slow, despite Betty’s political ambitions. If she had her way, both Apanovitch and Spirko would be dead by now.

Bob Fitrakis presented an anti-death penalty plank at the 1992 Democratic Platform hearings on behalf of Governor Jerry Brown and, after the plank was disallowed, sued the National Democratic Party and presidential candidate Bill Clinton.