August 13, 2002 at 10:40 PM EST - Updated July 2 at 11:40 PM
By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A death-row inmate whose case could be the first in Ohio decided under a ruling on executing mentally retarded prisoners should be spared anyway because he is innocent, his family said Tuesday.
Gregory Lott's mother, Louise, and his half brother, Clifford Edwards, asked the Ohio Parole Board to recommend that Gov. Bob Taft grant clemency.
Lott, whose lawyers claim could be retarded, was convicted of the 1986 slaying of John McGrath, who was attacked and set on fire in his East Cleveland home. The 41-year-old is the first Ohio inmate facing execution since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on June 20 that executing mentally retarded inmates is unconstitutional because it is cruel and unusual punishment.
Parole Board Chairman Raymond Capots said the board would make its recommendation to Taft by Friday. Taft can then reduce Lott's sentence or allow the execution to proceed. Four executions have taken place since Taft took office in 1999.
Lott's lawyers argued that his original attorneys were not allowed to see evidence that included a statement from McGrath, who died eight days after the attack, describing his attacker as lighter-skinned than Lott and having longer hair.
Prosecutors and lawyers from Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office responded that the differences are not that pronounced and the issue is not enough to overturn Lott's sentence.
Louise Lott and Edwards each read short statements to the board after the inmate's lawyers made their presentation.
"I'm most sure they have the wrong man. I've known Greg his whole life and he's never had light skin or long hair," Louise Lott said.
Edwards said his brother was not capable of such a crime.
"There's no way you can get me to believe he'd pour (lamp) oil on somebody and set him on fire," Edwards said.
Gregory Meyers, chief of the death-penalty division of the Ohio Public Defender's office, said he is focusing on misconduct during and after his client's trial rather than dwell on the subject of mental retardation.
Meyers' office told the parole board in its clemency request that Lott's IQ was 72, as measured by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
The accepted norm for retardation is 70, but guidelines accepted by the American Psychiatric Association say a 5-percentage-point margin of error in such testing exists, meaning Lott's IQ could be as low as 67 or as high as 77. The Supreme Court left up to the states how to gauge retardation.
Meyers said the material in the clemency request didn't require further elaboration from him.
"The records that both sides attached to our petitions speak strongly to the mental retardation," Meyers said. "I'm not a shrink. I'm a lawyer. I can't argue the shrink evidence as strongly as I can argue the lawyer evidence."
Jon Oebker, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor who is fighting Lott's appeal, said that Meyers left out one important part of the case -- the evidence that led to Lott's conviction.
"You hear the word 'cheat' over and over and over. What you don't hear are words like fingerprints, shoe prints and eyewitness testimony," Oebker said.
McGrath also told police that he recognized Lott from a 1983 burglary at his home and another witness testified she saw Lott in McGrath's stolen car after the attack, Oebker said.
Oebker also questions the defense's definition of Lott's IQ.
Oebker said Lott was measured with a more reliable test that resulted in a score of 86, and Lott's own expert at the trial testified that Lott's IQ was 77.
Lott also has two appeals before the Ohio Supreme Court, one arguing he is retarded and the other maintaining his innocence.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)