Cuyahoga County

McGinty Asks Ohio Parole Board to Recommend Commuting Death Sentence

July 3, 2013

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty is asking the Ohio Parole Board to recommend commuting the death sentence of a Cleveland man who, as a teenager in 1987, brutally murdered his neighbor.

In a statement filed with the board on Wednesday, July 3, McGinty urged changing Billy Slagle’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Slagle is currently scheduled to be executed on August 7 for the aggravated murder of Mari Ann Pope, who was 40 years old at the time of her death.

The Parole Board will consider Slagle’s case when it meets July 8 in Columbus, and then forward a recommendation to Gov. John Kasich. The last time the board reviewed Slagle’s case, in September 2011, it unanimously opposed clemency. The governor nonetheless ordered a reprieve for Slagle so that federal litigation regarding Ohio’s execution procedures could be resolved.

McGinty emphasized that his recommendation in no way minimizes the horrific nature of Slagle’s actions in the early morning hours of August 13, 1987. McGinty also said that if the case were to come to his office today, he likely would not seek the death penalty or expect to see it imposed. Consistency requires applying the same standards to this case.

Therefore, McGinty wrote, “The facts of this case compel us to recommend that Slagle receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in this case.’’

Evidence at trial clearly proved that Slagle entered Pope’s home on Clinton Avenue, presumably to commit burglary, and then stabbed her 17 times with a pair of sewing scissors he found in her bedroom. Pope was babysitting two children at the time. They heard the commotion and escaped through a back door. They ran to the home of another neighbor, who called police. Cleveland officers responded and discovered Slagle hiding in Pope’s residence clutching a pair of bloody scissors. Forensic testing established that it was Pope’s blood on the pair of scissors and on his clothes.

A jury found Slagle guilty of aggravated murder and recommended a death sentence. Common Pleas Judge Carl J. Character concurred and sentenced Slagle to death on April 7, 1988. Slagle was 18 at the time of the killing, 19 when sentenced.

McGinty stressed that he respects and appreciates the hard work of police and prosecutors that brought the case to this point. There is no doubt of Slagle’s guilt.  But in reversing this office’s previous support for the death penalty in this case, McGinty cited changes in Ohio law and in the way that he and his team now assess potential capital cases.

Under Ohio law in 1988, jurors did not have an option – as they would today – of recommending life without parole. Faced with the prospect that the killer might eventually be freed, jurors chose the only option that would preclude that possibility.

McGinty noted that his office has a new capital review policy to assess the appropriateness of seeking the death penalty in both new cases and appeals. The committee examines, among other factors, potential mitigating evidence, the likelihood that a jury would impose a death sentence and the likelihood that it could be sustained on appeal.

As heinous as the murder of Mari Ann Pope was, McGinty concluded that the totality of the facts would not meet these new criteria for seeking a death sentence. Factors such as Slagle’s age and his long history of alcohol and drug abuse would make a death penalty harder to justify or sustain. The possibility of life without parole would give the prosecutor’s office and the community a strong and decisive alternative.

“While in no way do these factors excuse or mitigate the crime and the need for appropriate punishment in this case, they would likely have led a jury to recommend  a sentence of life without the possibility of parole had that been an option,’’ McGinty wrote to the Parole Board.

Assistant County Prosecutors T. Allan Regas and Matthew Meyer will attend and present at Monday’s Parole Board hearing.
Contact: Joseph Frolik, Director of Communication and Public Policy. Phone: (216) 698-2819 or cell (216) 640-6186.     

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