In his first four years in office, Gov. John Kasich used his executive clemency power more sparingly than any other Ohio governor in the past three decades. He granted 66 of 1,521 requests, about 4.4% of 1,521 non-death-penalty cases he received and acted upon from 2011 to 2014 making him the most conservative with clemency of any Ohio governor going back to the 1980s, when the state began tracking gubernatorial clemency.
Last year, Kasich, a Republican who began his second term in January, approved 17 of 433 clemency requests he reviewed, about 4 %. All of the cases approved were pardons, some going back to crimes committed more than 25 years ago. A pardon wipes out a past criminal record.
Kasich commuted the death sentences of five killers during his first term, but allowed 12 to be executed. He recently used his executive authority to push back the entire execution schedule for a year, to January 2016, to allow time for the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to obtain sufficient quantities of new execution drugs as permitted by a change in state law.
In the past 30 years, Ohio governors have used clemency in different ways, sometimes reflecting personal ideological persuasions. Former Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, approved 20 % of 1,615 clemency requests he handled between 2007 and 2011. Most involved low-level, nonviolent offenses, but he did commute five death-penalty sentences to life without parole.
No Ohio governor in modern history has commuted a death sentence and set a prisoner free. Republican governors George V. Voinovich (1991-98) and Bob Taft (1999-2007) each approved less than 10 % of the clemency requests they received. Gov. James A. Rhodes, a Republican, approved 17.5 % of clemencies in 1982, his last year in office.
Democrat Richard F. Celeste, governor from 1983 to 1991, used his clemency power most liberally, commuting the death sentences of eight killers on Death Row in his next to last day in office. He also granted clemency to 25 female prisoners, reasoning they were victims of “battered-woman syndrome” and deserved mercy.