Ohio killer loses in court but manages to win clemency

Ronald Post and his lawyers tried for years to convince a court that he was too fat to be executed.

At 450 pounds, his lawyers argued, Post was so fat that his executioners wouldn’t be able to find veins for the intravenous injection of the lethal drugs. They even suggested that the weight of his body would cause the gurney in the death chamber to collapse. And they said that if the drugs were injected into his muscle rather than a vein, it might take hours or days to kill him.

Those bizarre arguments failed, and he was scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 13 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at Lucasville.

Not anymore. While Post’s various appeals over the years were all rejected by courts up to the Supreme Court of the United States, he finally found a sympathetic ear — or rather five sympathetic ears — at the Ohio Parole Board.

A different tack

There, his public defenders did not argue over Post’s weight or his susceptibility to what they said would be cruel and inhuman punishment. They talked about how Post had received bad legal representation when he pleaded guilty to the murder of an Elyria motel clerk, Helen Vantz, during a 1983 robbery.

By a vote of 5-3 the board recommend mercy, not because he board doubted his guilt, but because the representation he received did not meet the expectations in a death penalty case. There were different possible scenarios for the crime, some of which had Post pulling the trigger, some of them having him case the motel and act as a getaway driver. Our view would be that whatever active role he played in a robbery that resulted in Helen Vantz being shot in cold blood would make him eligible for the death penalty. That he may have pleaded guilty expecting to receive less than the death penalty only demonstrates that he considered himself less culpable than did the sentencing judge.

Difficult decision

We can understand that this case presented Gov. John Kasich with one of the most difficult things a governor is required to do in states that have the death penalty, which is to sign death warrants. He has done so, before, and he should have done so this time.

However, Kasich agreed with the parole board’s reading of the case, and Post no longer has a date with the executioner. Kasich commuted Post’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

We’re going to hazard a guess that now that the death penalty is off the table, Post finds a way to start dropping some of those excess pounds he’s been carrying.

Now that being morbidly obese is no longer a potential life-saver for Post, no one should be surprised if he starts following a more healthful regimen.

Post is now 53, the same age as Helen Vantz was when she was murdered. He gained nearly 200 pounds during three decades on death row. We’re betting he hopes to lose 200 over the next 30 years as the taxpayers of Ohio continue to keep him in the style to which he’s become accustomed.

While Post is dieting and contemplating his remaining years without the threat of execution hanging over his head, his victim’s family faces a different prospect. They are left to contemplate the three decades spent without closure or justice and to wonder how many more decades Post will get to spend above ground while their loved one lies beneath it.

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