At issue before the board is the conviction and death sentence of William Montgomery for the fatal shooting of Debra Ogle in 1986 in the Toledo area. Montgomery also was convicted of murder but not sentenced to death for the shooting of Cynthia Tincher, Ogle's roommate.
Montgomery, 52, is set to die on April 11. Republican Gov. John Kasich has the final say. Ogle was shot as part of a robbery, and Tincher was killed because she could identify Montgomery and his co-defendant, Glover Heard, according to the Lucas County prosecutor.
Tincher's body was found in her car the day prosecutors say the women were killed, and Ogle's body was found in woods five days later. Heard and Montgomery each blamed the other for the killings. Heard pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Montgomery in exchange for prosecutors dropping death penalty charges and a child molesting charge.
Prosecutors say evidence points to Montgomery as the killer, including his gun being used in both killings and eyewitnesses who saw him near Tincher's car, where she was found dead. Montgomery went to a dry cleaner the day of the killings and dropped off a jacket responsible for "putting a yellowish brown, brownish dripping mess on the floor," according to prosecutors.
The evidence against Montgomery, including his own version of events, points to him as the killer of both women, Stephen Maher, an assistant Ohio attorney general, told the board. Montgomery's attorney says an examination of Ogle's autopsy casts doubt on the state's version of the killings, which then calls into question the entire case against Montgomery.
Ogle's body lacked signs of decomposition natural for a body left outside for several days and the pooling of blood indicated she died within six to 12 hours before she was found on March 13, 1986, and not a few days earlier on March 8, according to the review by Colorado-based Independent Forensic Services.
Adding to the confusion over Ogle's death, a police report was never presented to the defense in which witnesses said they saw Ogle alive after March 8, Montgomery's attorney argued to the parole board.
"There's just too much doubt. Too much uncertainty," Jon Oebker, Montgomery's attorney, told the board Thursday. A federal judge and a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Montgomery deserved a new trial based in part on the missing report. The full 6th Circuit rejected that argument. The witnesses later said they mistook Ogle's sister for the missing woman.
Evy Jarrett, of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, questioned how likely it was in the cold temperatures that week in March 1986 that decomposition would have occurred, contrary to the forensic examination's conclusion.
Oebker also argues: — The state withheld information at trial about other suspects, including jealous boyfriends and a "drug cartel" hit man. — A juror who recommended death for Montgomery said in an affidavit last month he would not have done so based on the new autopsy evidence, including discrepancies about Ogle's time of death.
— Another juror should not have been allowed to stay on the case after telling the trial judge she was a psychiatric patient who claimed to have seen a psychiatrist testifying on behalf of Montgomery in a dream 22 years earlier.
Some board members seemed bothered Thursday that the police report of Ogle being seen alive after March 8 was never provided at trial, despite the fact witnesses were mistaken. "Fair is fair. Rules are rules. It should have been turned over," said board member Ellen Venters. Board chairman Andre Imbrogno questioned whether Montgomery lost an opportunity because of the missing report.
The report's importance is undercut by the fact it was wrong, said Maher, of the attorney general's office. "Ultimately it would go nowhere because it wasn't ever true," he said.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.