April 11, 2018

William Montgomery Granted Clemency Amid Concerns About Reliability of Conviction

Laura Schaefer, Staff Attorney

On April 11, 2018, the state of Ohio was scheduled to execute William Montgomery for the 1986 murders of Cynthia Tincher and Debra Ogle. In the weeks preceding the execution, advocates for Montgomery launched an increasingly public-facing media campaign with the tagline, #toomuchdoubt. Montgomery’s attorneys and supporters argued that there were too many questions concerning Montgomery’s guilt in the case—which rested largely on the testimony of his codefendant, Glover Heard—to allow the execution to proceed. In his clemency filing, Montgomery pointed to the fact that Heard provided multiple conflicting statements about the murders to police prior to testifying against Montgomery; that at least one juror should have been declared unfit to serve on the jury, and that others were confused by the law when they voted to sentence him to death; and finally, that the State had committed “gross prosecutorial misconduct” by withholding a police report that cast doubt on the victims’ times of death as recounted at trial.

According to Glover Heard’s testimony at trial, Montgomery first killed Debra Ogle in an attempted robbery and then shot Tincher because she had witnessed Ogle’s murder. Tincher’s body was found on March 8, 1986, and Ogle’s body was discovered four days later, on March 12, 1986. When Ogle’s body was found, however, the state of decomposition did not square with this purported timeline. In a clemency petition submitted to the Ohio Adult Parole Authority (the entity responsible for making a nonbinding recommendation for or against clemency to the governor), lawyers for Montgomery presented forensic analysis indicating that Tincher had been killed closer to four days later than Ogle—calling into question both the supposed motive for the killings and the manner in which they occurred. Additionally, advocates uncovered police files showing that several witnesses had stated they had seen Ogle several days after the state’s claimed time of death. While the state argued that these reports were mistaken, and that the witnesses had in fact seen Ogle’s sister, not Ogle herself, the defense argued that these reports nevertheless should have been turned over at the time of trial, as they cast further doubt on the state’s—and Heard’s—evidence regarding how and why the murders took place.

Ultimately, in a 6-4 vote, the Parole Authority recommended Montgomery be granted clemency. In its report, the Board specifically cited the juror issues, as well as the “state’s failure to disclose the police report,” as the reasons compelling the clemency recommendation. The Board members in favor found that these issues raised “a substantial question as to whether Montgomery’s death sentence was imposed through the kind of just and credible process that a punishment of this magnitude requires.” On March 26, 2018, Governor Kasich accepted the Board’s recommendation and commuted Montgomery’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. With 20 total commutations, Ohio has now granted clemency in more death penalty cases than any state other than Illinois, which cleared its death row immediately prior to abolishing capital punishment in the state.

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Related Resources

Read the Board’s decision in Montgomery’s case.

 

Laura Schaefer, Staff Attorney