By Marc Kovac
Gov. John Kasich has commuted the death sentence of a man facing lethal injection this month for the murder of a Youngstown shopkeeper more than 25 years ago.
Kasich cited John J. Eley’s “limited mental capacity” and calls for clemency from Atty. Gary L. Van Brocklin, a former Mahoning County prosecutor, among the reasons for reducing the death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The murder of Ihsan Aydah was a heinous act that warrants severe punishment,” Kasich said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. “In participating in the murder, John Jeffrey Eley, who has limited mental capacity, acted under the direction of another man who later was acquitted. Without those factors, it is doubtful that Eley would have committed this crime. Additionally, the former Mahoning County prosecutor who tried Eley’s case now regrets the way the case was handled and its outcome, and has called for clemency. The combined weight of these facts leads me to commute Eley’s sentence to life in prison without parole.”
Kasich added, “Murder, under any circumstance, is an atrocious act, and this decision in no way diminishes that or the actions of Eley. I pray that the family and friends of Ihsan Aydah can find peace.”
Vicki Werneke, federal public defender who argued for clemency on Eley’s behalf but without cooperation from the death row inmate, welcomed the news Tuesday.
“We are very, very, very thrilled and pleased and so grateful that the governor saw fit to spare Mr. Eley’s life,” she said.
Eley, 63, was set to be executed July 26 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville after being convicted for the 1986 shooting death of Aydah during a robbery of the Sinjil Market on West Federal Street.
Eley told parole board members he was innocent of the crime, that police fabricated his confession and that he should be released from prison.
Legal counsel who appeared before the parole board on his behalf argued that Eley is intellectually disabled and was manipulated by another man who instigated the robbery and provided the gun used in the crime.
And Van Brocklin, who sought the death penalty in the case, now says he doesn’t think the punishment fits Eley’s crime.
But prosecutors called Eley a career criminal with a lengthy record of his own who continues to deny responsibility for the crime, despite an earlier confession.
Kasich’s decision came after the state parole board, in a split decision, recommended against clemency for Eley last month.
JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Corrections, said Eley was informed of the decision early Tuesday afternoon.
He will be transferred from death row to another section of the Chillicothe Correctional Institution and eventually could be moved to another state prison.