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Ohio governor grants clemency to inmate claiming innocence in 1983 killing of produce vendor

Federal public defender Vicki Werneke, left, argues for mercy for death row inmate Arthur Tyler before the Ohio Parole Board while fellow public defender Alan Rossman observes, on Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. Tyler's lawyers say he is innocent and should be freed, while prosecutors say his death sentence should be commuted to life in prison because of questions about his case. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

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Federal public defender Vicki Werneke, left, argues for mercy for death row inmate Arthur Tyler before the Ohio Parole Board while fellow public defender Alan Rossman observes, on Thursday, April 24, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. Tyler's lawyers say he is innocent and should be freed, while prosecutors say his death sentence should be commuted to life in prison because of questions about his case. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's governor on Wednesday spared an inmate set to die later this month for the killing of a produce vendor, commuting his sentence to life in prison.

Republican Gov. John Kasich's clemency decision followed the recommendation a day earlier of mercy for Arthur Tyler by the Ohio Parole Board, which cited several statements by Tyler's co-defendant taking responsibility for the 1983 shooting.

Tyler, 54, was scheduled to die May 28 for the killing of Sander Leach during a robbery. Leach's relatives opposed clemency for Tyler.

Kasich called the irregularities in the court proceedings troubling. His decision commuted Tyler's sentence to life with no chance of parole.

"Arthur Tyler's crime against Sander Leach and his family was heinous, and this commutation in no way diminishes that," Kasich said in a statement.

Attorneys for Tyler told the board on April 24 that he is innocent and should be freed. Defence attorney Vicki Werneke said in an email Wednesday she continues to believe in Tyler's innocence and was hopeful after the parole board report that Tyler "would eventually be released from prison."

Cleveland prosecutors argued that Tyler's sentence should be changed to life without parole because of questions about the conviction, though they maintain Tyler fatally shot the produce vendor.

The case doesn't meet the office's current standards for a capital punishment prosecution, Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor Allan Regas told the board. He said the office wouldn't seek the death sentence in such a case today based on the evidence, which includes what appears to be a lack of intent to shoot the victim.

A statement from Prosecutor Timothy McGinty called the sentence commutation "a sound decision."

"It achieves justice for the elderly victim, Sander Leach, and for his family," McGinty said.

Tyler's first death sentence was overturned by a state appeals court in 1984 on the basis of poor legal assistance. He was convicted at a second trial and again sentenced to death.

The co-defendant, Leroy Head, pleaded guilty for his role in the slaying and was sentenced to life in prison with parole after 20 years for aggravated murder and seven to 25 years for aggravated robbery, according to court and parole board records. He was released from prison in 2008.

Head twice made statements to police that the gun went off while he was struggling with Leach and that it was he, not Tyler, who was responsible for the shooting, according to Tyler's clemency request.

Head recanted those statements and testified against Tyler at the first trial, saying Tyler had threatened his family if he explained what happened that day. Head also testified at Tyler's second trial.

In later years, however, Head denied Tyler had ever threatened him and said he testified at the second trial because a prosecutor threatened to negate his plea deal, according to Tyler's parole board filing.

Head also made several statements to defence attorneys, fellow prisoners and others that Tyler was not the shooter, according to the clemency request.

Messages left at a Cleveland phone listing for Head were not returned Wednesday, nor was one left with his attorney from his original trial.

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