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Canton Man Who Narrowly Escaped Execution Pushes for a New Trial

Charles Keith and Melinda Dawson
M.L. SCHULTZE
/
WKSU

For more than two decades, Kevin Keith and his family have been fighting his conviction on charges he gunned down six people, killing three, in a small town in central Ohio. Their latest attempt was in arguments today before a three-judge appeals panel in Lima. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports the judges heard very different interpretations of what forensic evidence showed and why it matters.

“Each side will have 15 minutes. Is counsel for the appellant ready to proceed…?” 

'I think there's no proof scientifically that is credible that points to Kevin Keith.'

In the next 15 minutes, defense attorney Zachary Swisher argued that a deposition from a controversial forensics analyst at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation was fatally flawed, yet it provided the scientific framework jurors relied on to convict Keith. Swisher read from Michelle Yezzo’s personnel file.

'Two eyewitnesses testified at trial that the appellant is the one who carried out these heinous acts.'

“’Her findings and conclusions regarding evidence may be suspect. She will stretch the truth to satisfy a department.’ I’m not sure a more damaging quote could be attributed to a forensic expert who’s testifying in a dealth- penalty trial.” 

Assistant Crawford County Prosecutor Robert Kidd acknowledged the analyst’s work record could have boosted the defense had it been revealed 23 years ago. But “they’re simply ignoring the rest of the evidence at trial. We have not one but two eyewitnesses that testified at trial that the appellant is the one who carried out these heinous acts.”

A decision is expected within three months. Keith had been on death row until then-Gov. Ted Strickland commuted his sentence to life in prison. 

Among those pushing for a new trial for Kevin Keith is former Ohio Republican Attorney General Jim Petro. He's become an outspoken opponent of the death penalty but says this case involves other questions. 

petro_on_keith.mp3
Petro on the Keith case

“There’s absolutely no confidence in the testimony and the proof presented by the BCI expert. And of course, part of my career I managed BCI. So I’m particularly concerned about that issue. But I think there’s no proof scientifically that is credible that points to Kevin Keith.” 

Here's the complete audio of the hearing at the 3rd District Court of Appeals:

3rd_district_hearing_keith_attorney.mp3
Zachary Swisher on why Keith deserves a new trial
3rd_district_prosecutor.mp3
Robert Kidd on why the verdict should stand