July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

Kasich to talk to victims’ families before commuting a death sentence

Gov. John Kasich personally will call the families of murder victims when he plans to commute the death sentences of convicted killers.

The new protocol comes after a meeting Wednesday between Kasich and the family of Helen Vantz, who was killed in 1983 during the robbery of the Slumber Inn in Elyria, where she worked as a clerk.

The Republican governor commuted the death sentence imposed on Vantz’s killer, Ronald Ray Post, last year because of concerns about the legal representation Post received before pleading no contest to aggravated murder nearly three decades ago.

Michael Vantz, one of Helen Vantz’s sons, wrote in an email to The Gazette’s sister paper, The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, that he had asked Kasich to propose a law that would require governors to notify survivors by phone of their intent.

“Kasich replied that a bill wouldn’t work, but that he himself would initiate the Helen Vantz protocol of notifying family members who’d survived their murdered or killed loved one when the perpetrator’s fate was to be changed at the hand of the governor,” he wrote.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said he couldn’t discuss what occurred during the private meeting, but confirmed that Kasich was implementing the new protocol.

Michael Vantz also wrote that Kasich told him that future governors voluntarily would make similar phone calls once it became tradition.

The Vantz family has been highly critical of Kasich’s decision to spare Post and of the timing of the announcement. The Ohio Parole Board recommended clemency on Dec. 14, 2012, a day before the 29th anniversary of Helen Vantz’s killing on Dec. 15, 1983.

Kasich announced his decision to spare Post’s life just a few days later.

Michael Vantz wrote that he virtually was shouting at Kasich during the meeting when he talked about the lack of communication from the governor about his decision.

“Governor, a phone call from you, a call from you to a couple of us would have made a world of difference — would have made all the difference!” Michael Vantz wrote that he said to Kasich.

Kasich, Michael Vantz wrote, then told him about the loss of his own parents, who were killed in an automobile crash years ago and the pain and hardship he endured from their deaths.

He also wrote that Kasich gave him a copy of his book “Every Other Monday,” which the governor signed.

“In essence, he was offering his book in exchange for my release of the Ronald Post business, the ordeal, the aftermath, perhaps, and more likely, the faulty, clumsy and hasty commutation of Post’s sentence to life without parole,” Michael Vantz wrote.

Michael Vantz also wrote that Kasich agreed to look into a new law or procedure that would allow a judge to pull an attorney off a murder case if the defense being provided was incompetent.

The Parole Board concluded, and Kasich agreed, that Post’s trial lawyers had failed their client by not securing a promise that Post would not receive a death sentence if he pleaded no contest in the case. A three-judge panel later sentenced Post to die for killing Helen Vantz, something Post now contends that he didn’t do.

Kasich’s decision to spare Post was unrelated to the killer’s arguments that his obesity and other medical problems would make executing him inhumane.

Michael Vantz also wrote that he proposed a third concept to Kasich, but wouldn’t discuss what that was because the officials it would impact haven’t been notified yet.

Michael Vantz wrote that he was surprised at the outcome of the meeting with the governor.

“I think I witnessed a miracle that day,” he wrote.

Contact reporter Brad Dicken at (440) 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com .