Warren — About a week ago, Arthur Tyler was sitting on Death Row, where he has spent more than 30 of his 54 years for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
Today, Tyler is among the general population inmates at the Trumbull Correctional Institution near Warren, where he now shares a cell, can walk unhindered by shackles to the library and focuses on writing emails and letters to his friends and supporters.
He’s not necessarily happy about it.
A week ago, he thought he had a good chance of leaving prison behind, with a favorable recommendation from the state parole board to commute his death sentence.
Gov. John Kasich did put the brakes on his scheduled lethal injection but decided to keep Tyler in prison, without the possibility of parole.
“I guess I can say I’m OK with him sparing my life, as he called it, but he kind of really didn’t spare my life,” Tyler said during an interview this week at his new prison home. “He took me from going home or possibly going home to life without parole. And I didn’t understand that, because the parole board ruled to basically free me. No way he looked at the parole board’s recommendation. He just, he came back and said life without parole the next day, that’s it.”
He added, “It was devastating, but, you know, it is what it is. I’ve just got to hope that one day I still have a chance to go home. Maybe something might happen, maybe it won’t, but it is what it is. I’ve got to deal with it however it comes.”
Tyler was sentenced to death for the murder of an elderly Cleveland man in 1983.
Sander Leach, who sold produce out of his van as a community service, was shot and killed during a robbery. Another man initially confessed to the crime but later said Tyler was the shooter.
While urging clemency, prosecutors asked the governor to keep Tyler in prison, saying they were convinced he committed the crime. They noted inconsistent statements from Tyler and testimony from multiple witnesses.
According to documents, they insisted “Tyler is manipulative. ... He has manipulated his supporters in the community while he continues to buck authority in the prison just as he regularly bucked authority before his incarceration.”
Kasich sided with prosecutors in his clemency decision.
“The questions that continue around this case are fundamental, and the irregularities in the court proceedings are troubling,” the governor noted in granting clemency. “Arthur Tyler’s crime against Sander Leach and his family was heinous, and this commutation in no way diminishes that and I pray that Mr. Leach’s family can find peace and healing.”
Tyler has his own criminal record, including petty theft, breaking and entering and other juvenile counts and robbery and possession of criminal tools as an adult.
His prison record includes half a dozen instances where he was placed in disciplinary control and more than two dozen other conduct reports, including three last year, according to documents.
Tyler acknowledged adjustment issues — “I was a butt-hole, a 23-year-old man on Death Row for something I didn’t do. I was angry. And I just, for the first few years, I kind of let myself go, but I turned that around quickly.”
But Tyler said he has never killed or seriously hurt anyone.
“Thirty years ago, a boy killed a man. He was with me, but I had nothing to do with this crime,” he said. “He confessed. He made a deal after that to put it on me. I ended up on Death Row, no evidence, no witnesses, no gun, no nothing, just him changing his confessions and saying I did the murder…
“All of the evidence points to him. The only thing that put me here was him saying I did it. They have a couple of witnesses that said a few other things, but nothing to make me a murderer. This is a guy that made like 15 different statements. He was confessing all the way until I got out the courts.”
To Leach’s family, he added, “I didn’t kill your daddy. I didn’t. I’m not his murderer. The boy that murdered him is out there on the street right now.”
Tyler can apply again for clemency in a couple of years. He also has a case still pending before the Sixth Circuit.
According to Assistant Federal Public Defender Vicki Werneke, “If we are successful with that appeal, then Arthur could get a new sentencing hearing back in Cuyahoga County. He would then be able to get life with parole.”
Tyler added, “I’m not going [to be] quiet here. I’m not just going to lay back and let it happen. We’re going to fight and see what we can come up with.”
In the meantime, Tyler is getting used to his new surroundings, far away from the more secure confines of Death Row.
“... Just today, I was coming from the library,” he said. “I went over to the library and I walked right past my pod. I didn’t even notice, so I’ve got to get used to that. I’ve got to figure out where everything’s at. I’ll be OK.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.