COLUMBUS, Ohio – The governor spared the life of a man facing execution Tuesday for killing a 3-year-old, in part because the convict had an undiagnosed medical condition that led to developmental disabilities and large breasts as a child.
Sidney Cornwell's sentence will be commuted to life without the possibility of parole, Gov. Ted Strickland said Monday.
"There is absolutely no doubt that Mr. Cornwell is guilty of the crime of aggravated murder — and he has admitted that," Strickland said in a statement. "The only question I am confronted with is whether the death penalty is appropriate in this case given the fact certain mitigating information was not available at the time the sentence was imposed."
The Ohio Parole Board had recommended against mercy for Cornwell, but Strickland said jurors might have chosen a different sentence if they had known that Cornwell had Klinefelter Syndrome. The condition caused Cornwell to develop motor and language skills late and gave him large breasts as a boy, which led to repeated teasing.
Cornwell, 33, of Youngstown, was scheduled to die by injection Tuesday for the killing of Jessica Ballew. The girl was on her porch in Youngstown in 1996 as Cornwell and other Crips gang members were hunting for a member of a rival gang. He opened fire on people who apparently knew his intended victim, killing the girl.
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said he did not believe Cornwell deserved mercy.
"Although I disagree with the governor's decision, I respect his right to make that decision," Gains said.
Cornwell's public defenders had cited the medical condition, in which males are born with an extra X chromosome, in seeking mercy. They also said Cornwell was abused by his father and fell under the influence of gangs as a teenager.
Seventeen men have been put to death since Strickland took office in 2007. Cornwell is the third death row inmate this year to be spared by the governor.
In September, Strickland cited "legitimate questions" about evidence used to convict Kevin Keith, though he said he believed the inmate committed the crimes of which he was accused. In June, he also spared Richard Nields, who strangled his girlfriend during an argument, because of court decisions that questioned the appropriateness of a death sentence.
The decision is the last Strickland must make regarding a death penalty case. He was defeated in this month's election and will be succeeded by Republican John Kasich in January. Ohio's next execution is scheduled for Feb. 17.
Kasich also may have to address concerns about a shortage of a lethal injection drug that has prompted execution delays across the country.
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report.