Ohio Governor John Kasich has spared the life of a convicted killer of two people, expressing concern that there is considerable doubt about the case.
Shawn Hawkins, 43, had been scheduled to die next week for the 1989 killings of Terrance Richard, 18, Diamond Marteen, 19, in Mount Healthy.
But his attorneys had raised questions about evidence that sent him to death row. Last month the Ohio Parole Board recommended that Kasich spare Hawkins.
Hawkins is the first death row inmate to receive mercy from Governor Kasich. He will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hawkins' family said they are eternally grateful and that they never lost hope after trying 22 years to keep him alive.
"Life is hanging in the balance," a somber Shawn Hawkins just weeks ago told Enquirer Producer Carrie Cochran in a Youngstown prison interview, when he thought he was close to being executed. He said he is innocent.
"If they're gonna potentially kill me, execute me," Hawkins said. "I just want them to really scrutinize it and turn it upside down and inside out."
Governor Kasich gave the case the microscope treatment and called it "frustratingly unclear", what the condemned killer's role was in the 1989 double murder.
But Kasich also said, make no mistake, Hawkins was involved.
"I definitely don't want people thinking that I'm this murderer," Hawkins said.
The killings actually happened in Springfield Township, but police maintain it was in Mount Healthy, at the southern end of Martin Street, their bodies were dumped in what today is an overgrown field, enclosed with a chain link fence.
"I've always held on to a sense of hope that somewhere along the line that the wrong would be righted," Hawkins said.
And so have his family and friends.
"This really is a great day," said Sister Alice Gerdeman, CDP, of the Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center in Cincinnati. "And we should have more days like this in the State of Ohio, more times when truth is told, when it's recognized, when life is valued."
Gerdeman is a family friend and has helped champion Hawkins' clemency.
"When you get to less than a week before an execution," Gerdeman said. "Of somebody with all of the signs of innocence that this case has, it should make everybody in the State very, very aware of the fact that we could make a mistake, we didn't this time, but we could."
There is a bill before the Legislature right now to eliminate the death penalty in the State of Ohio.
"And if there's ever a case that would make a case for that bill to be passed this is it," Gerdeman said.
"It's been a long time coming," said Chuck Hawkins, Shawn's father. "We never gave up the faith."
"Unconditional love for your child," said his wife Judy.
It feels like it's been a lifetime of fighting for their son.
"It's like that rainbow, at the end of the rainbow you have that pot of gold?" Judy Hawkins said. "Well, my pot of gold was Shawn at the end of the rainbow and I wouldn't trade that for the world."
Hawkins is the 7th inmate to be spared since Ohio resumed executions in 1999.
Gerdeman said there are people on death row scheduled for execution, one a month, through next February.
So, many more families like Judy and Chuck Hawkins will be in-pain on different cases.
FOX19 is still trying to reach the families of the victims for their reaction to Hawkins clemency.