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Judge Skow's change of heart helps convicted man

July 9, 2009 (AP): A few month before he died, Judge William Skow (Lucas County Common Pleas) told the state parole board he was convinced that a man he sent to prison for murder 12 years ago didn't commit the crime.

The Ohio Parole Board, citing the judge's letter, recently recommended that Willie Knighten Jr.'s sentence be commuted so that he is immediately eligible for parole. The final decision is up to Gov. Ted Strickland.

Knighten, 37, is serving a sentence of 18 years to life in prison in the killing of a man who was shot in the head and the wounding of another man.

Skow, who heard the case and convicted Knighten, said at the trial in 1997 that witnesses who claimed Knighten was at a party and couldn't have been the shooter were not credible.

But the judge began having a change of heart.

Skow wrote a letter to the parole board in February that said he had become persuaded that his findings were wrong and that it was likely that Knighten was innocent of the charges.

``This case has weighed heavily on my mind ever since,'' he said in the letter.

The judge said nothing cleared Knighten of the crime, but there were ``an accumulation of facts and anomalies that have led me to this belief'' that Knighten is innocent.

The judge also said several significant errors were made during Knighten's trial, and he criticized the police investigation.

``Knighten's attorney chose to put on a very shaky alibi defense which did not help his cause though this does not excuse my error in not analyzing the state's case dispassionately,'' he wrote.

Skow, who was a county judge at the time and later elected to Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals, died June 21, 2009, just weeks before the Ohio Parole Board made its recommendation.

Attorney Kenneth Rexford, who has represented Knighten recently, said Skow's change of heart was ``of huge importance.''

``In Willie Knighten's case, it could have taken several years in winding through the courts. His character caused us to think, 'Let's go to the governor,''' Rexford said. ``It seemed like the right route, and it was.''

Strickland has received the parole board's report but has not made a decision, his office said. Knighten would still undergo a parole hearing if the governor agrees with the board.

According to the Ohio Adult Parole Authority, five sentences were commuted and 32 pardons were granted out of a total 226 clemency applications a year ago.

Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Christopher Anderson, who tried the case, said he did not give an opinion to help on the board's decision, but he also said he didn't oppose the board considering clemency.





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