The long saga of John Spirko

By: David Norton

The State of Ohio is now preparing to kill an innocent person, John Spirko, on November 29th. The evidence of Spirko’s innocence is so strong that Republican Governor Bob Taft has been forced to delay the execution four times. Spirko was convicted for the 1982 murder of Betty Mottinger, but the case against him smacks of problems with the prosecutorial process.

As with every death penalty case, class is a central issue in Spirko’s case. In 1982 John Spirko was jailed on a charge unrelated to Mottinger’s murder. While wealthy people can afford to hire expensive lawyers to get out of jail, Spirko didn’t have that option. Instead, his girlfriend tried to help him escape, but was caught and faced charges herself. Still unable to pay for legal help, Spirko concocted a plan to seek leniency for his girlfriend. He contacted police, offering to provide information about Mottinger’s murder. What then happened turned quite tragic for Spirko. He lied to investigators about what he really knew, offering them information that he had read in the newspaper. In turn, prosecutors charged Spirko with the crime even though he never confessed.

The state relied on an eyewitness who claimed to have seen someone resembling Spirko’s former cellmate, Delaney Gibson, at the crime scene. However, Gibson didn’t match the description. To make matters worse, Gibson was not even in Ohio at the time of the murder. Gibson was in Asheville, North Carolina on the day of and the day after the murder. Prosecutors knew that Gibson had an alibi but sat on this exculpatory evidence for fourteen years. Spirko’s defense attorneys did not learn of this revealing information until 1997. Despite the state’s theory that Spirko and Gibson committed the murder together, Gibson has never been brought to trial.

What does this all mean? It means that the prosecutor’s key eyewitness was wrong about who was at the crime scene, and the prosecution team withheld exculpatory information during trial, which is a major violation of judicial conduct. It also means that the real murderer is still at large and John Spirko is set to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit. John recently told activists that he has suffered “a blatant pattern of overzealous prosecution, withholding of evidence, jailhouse snitches, and false identification. My case has it all.”

Visit for more info about the case. Letters and phone calls demanding justice for John Spirko can go to Gov. Taft at: Governor Bob Taft, 30th Floor, 77 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215-6117. Phone: 614-466-3555.