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Ohio governor grants clemency for death row inmate

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Gov. Ted Strickland on Thursday spared the life of a death row inmate who killed his mother in a cocaine-induced rage and whose upcoming execution was opposed by his entire family, including his mother's siblings.

Jeffrey Hill, 44, had been scheduled to die by lethal injection March 3. But Strickland said he agrees with the Ohio Parole Board, which recommended last week that Hill not be put to death and should eventually be released from prison.

Hill stabbed his mother, Emma Hill, to death in 1991. As she lay dying in her Cincinnati apartment, he took $20 from her to spend on drugs. He returned later in the day and took another $80.

Hill's family said they had suffered enough and that putting him to death would only make things worse. The case was the first time an Ohio inmate facing death for killing a family member had unanimous backing from his family as he fought execution.

Strickland, a Democrat, cited the views of the Hill family, as well as the poor legal assistance Hill received when he was sentenced.

The governor also cited Hill's remorse, the fact that the death sentence was not equivalent to other non-death sentences in cases where someone killed a mother or father, and the fact that two Ohio Supreme Court justices disagreed with his sentence.

"After the review of extensive material associated with this case, I concur with the unanimous rationale and recommendation of the Ohio Parole Board," Strickland said in a statement.

David Bobby, warden of the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, told Hill the news Thursday afternoon.

"He seemed very happy," Bobby said, according to an e-mail Bobby sent to prisons spokeswoman Andrea Carson.

Strickland's decision was only the third time an Ohio governor has spared a death row inmate since the state resumed executions in 1999. It was the first time since then that an Ohio governor spared a defendant who acknowledged committing the murder, and agreed to an alternative sentence of less than life without the possibility of parole.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters had said he would prefer Hill stay in prison the rest of his life.

"We've done our job," Deters said in a statement to The Associated Press this week. "I respect the ability for the governor to do what he believes is right."

A message seeking comment from Deters about Strickland's decision was left Thursday.

Hill's public defenders praised the ruling.

"Strickland's decision rightfully acknowledges the wishes of the victim's family, who are united in their support for clemency, as well as the issues of unfairness that plagued Jeffrey's case," assistant public defenders Justin Thompson and Pam Prude-Smithers said in a statement.

Strickland has allowed four executions to proceed. He commuted the death sentence of death row inmate John Spirko last year out of concern over evidence in the case and the slight possibility he didn't commit the murder he was convicted of.

In 2003, Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, commuted the death sentence of Jerome Campbell, also of Cincinnati, over concerns about evidence heard by jurors.