Death penalty case of Kenneth Smith before Kasich soon

Kenneth Smith (Source: Ohio Department of Corrections)
Kenneth Smith (Source: Ohio Department of Corrections)

The attorneys for 45-year old Kenneth Smith are asking Ohio Governor John Kasich for clemency.

Smith and his brother Randy were convicted of robbing and killing Ruth and Lewis Ray in their Hamilton home in May of 1995.

The new development is spawning differing views on this case and on capital punishment overall.

FOX19 spoke with the Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser and a local civil rights group, who said Smith's life should be spared.

The 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is just one of the courts that has heard the appeals Smith has made to stave-off his death sentence.

Gmoser said he recommended no mercy to the Clemency Board Thursday.

"The Rays knew the Smith brothers," Gmoser said.

They were neighbors. Lewis Ray was a flea marketer and his wife, Ruth, was a registered nurse.

Both Smiths were convicted of murder with death penalty specifications, but only one brother got sentenced to death row and that was Kenneth Wayne Smith.

"Randy Smith received a life sentence with parole eligibility after 30-years," Gmoser said.

So, why didn't they both get the death penalty?

"That was a question raised by the Clemency Board," Gmoser said. "And the answer to that is, from the State of Ohio's position, that Randy was subordinate to his brother, that Kenneth Wayne Smith was the mastermind, if you can pardon the contradiction in that term, he was the one who hatched the plan."

Gmoser said Kenneth murdered Lewis Ray.

"Kenneth Smith used a knife and almost decapitated Lewis Ray," Gmoser said. "Then rolled him over and took his wallet out of his back pocket."

"I just seen my step dad laying on the floor right as you walk in the door," said Ruth's son David Lester in a 1995 interview. "When I seen him, I yelled, 'Mom!', walked through and I found her."

Gmoser said Kenneth directed Randy to strangle and kill Mrs. Ray when he signaled his brother.

"He winked at him," Gmoser said.

"They got about $1,300 in cash from him," Gmoser said. "They ransacked the house after they killed these people, then proceeded to hide their crime by wearing socks over their hands while they searched through the house."

"This shouldn't have happened," said Ruth's son, Jim Lester in a 1995 interview. "They were nice people."

"Nothing but greed, pure and simple", Gmoser said.

Thursday he told the Clemency Board, the punishment fits the crime.

"The saying is, an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth would leave us all blind and toothless," said Sister Alice Gerdeman, CDP, who is with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati.

She said ending Smith's life will not end the suffering for any of the victims in this case.

"Well, it is the way the system works," Gerdeman said. "But it also does give us pause particularly when you're talking about something as critical as human life and that we may kill someone."

Gerdeman said they will write Governor Kasich and pray for Smith's clemency.

"My argument to the board was, clemency should be granted only in those extraordinary circumstances or after all the appeal processes there is still some nagging legitimate question of innocence," Gmoser said.

A decision from the Clemency Board is expected July 1. It will then go to Governor John Kasich, who has the final say.

Out of six death penalty cases Kasich has faced so far, he's only granted clemency to one person - Shawn Hawkins.

Should Smith's execution proceed, the state will make accommodations.

They will let him keep one arm free during the lethal injection, to make it easier for him to make his final statement.

Smith had his larynx removed, since he was incarcerated, and uses an artificial voice box.

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