Twenty-five of Ohio’s Death Row inmates have been assigned dates through 2022 when lethal chemicals under the state’s direction are to be injected into their bodies.
Samuel Moreland isn’t one of them, though more than 30 years have passed since his conviction for the murders of five members of a Dayton family.
In fact, of the 25 inmates with scheduled execution dates over the next four years, 20 of them entered the prison system after Moreland.
Execution schedules are determined by a number of factors, including whether an inmate has exhausted all of his appeals. But the wait can be frustrating for the victims’ families, who are forced to relive extraordinarily painful events with each delay, which can come at any time during the process.
In February, just days before he was scheduled to die, Raymond Tibbetts of Cincinnati had his execution delayed by Gov. John Kasich after a juror asked the governor to grant clemency in the case, saying the jury was never told about the abuse Tibbetts incurred as a young person, including being tied to his bed by his foster parents. Kasich rescheduled the execution for Oct. 17 of this year.
Another inmate — Romell Broom — received a stay of execution by then Gov. Ted Strickland in 2009 when the execution team was unable to local a suitable vein in which to inject the chemicals. He is now scheduled to die on June 17, 2020.
Moreland has never had an execution date but has spent more than three decades seeking to overturn his conviction. The delays have frustrated Tia Talbott, whose mother, sister, two sons and a niece were found slain in her South Ardmore Avenue home on Nov. 1, 1985.
The following year Moreland — Talbott’s mother’s boyfriend — was convicted by a three judge panel and sentenced to death. After more than three decades of appeals in the state and federal courts, Talbott was under the impression that Moreland would no longer be able to delay his execution.
“I thought this is it, it’s over. This is the end,” she said after the last appeal was rejected. “He will be executed. Justice will be done.”
However, a 2003 Ohio law that allows for additional DNA testing of evidence in death penalty cases gave Moreland another chance to disprove the prosecution’s case against him. Following a request by the Innocence Project, a legal clinic at the University of Cincinnati Law School, the court granted permission to have DNA evidence in Moreland’s case retested.
Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey said the group is interested only in seeing that justice is done. Since its inception in 2003, the group has reviewed approximately 8,000 cases and taken only 30 of them to court, he said.
“DNA technology is always changing and getting more and more sensitive so there are more and more things you can do,” Godsey said. “The first round of testing in this case that was done earlier came back in a way that was not helpful to Mr. Moreland. It was indicative of guilt but it wasn’t conclusively indicative. Our position is when someone is claiming innocence and there is DNA testing that you can do, you should do it, particularly when it is a death penalty case.”
Ohio has executed 55 people since 1999, though just two since a moratorium was put in place after a botched execution in January 2014. The executions were resumed last July.
‘My family is valuable’
Former Dayton Police Lieutenant Dan Baker, who was at the scene of the South Ardmore Avenue murders in 1985, believes the investigation was sound.
“As far as I’m concerned our job was done properly at the time, with the technology at the time, and professionally,” he said. “However, our court system allows for the appeal situation.”
Baker still remembers walking into the Talbott house and seeing the bodies of the victims. Some of them were shot while others — including small children — were beaten to death, he said.
Baker has no doubt in his mind that Moreland was the killer. But, he said, “They are going to take the technology of today and look back 30 years and say, gee whiz, did somebody make a mistake?”
Talbott says her family feels as though the court system has forgotten the agony they’ve been forced to endure.
“My family is valuable. They’re human beings,” she said. “They’re worth something and they (the courts) should act like it and do justice for them.”
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Capital Case Annual Report, the court initially granted retesting of evidence on July 10, 2014, including “spent, misfired, and live .22 caliber shell casings as well as blood-stained sweat pants.” The order to transfer the evidence to a lab for testing came on Dec. 4, 2017.
An eyewitness recalls the crime
Montgomery County Prosecutor Matt Heck, who worked on the original case in 1986 as an assistant prosecutor, said the DNA testing of the evidence will find nothing new.
“It’s been handled by a lot of different people. It was handled at the trial. I handled a lot of the shell casings. I handled a lot of the other evidence. I’m sure my fingerprints are on some of it. I’m sure jurors’ fingerprints are on it, so it’s been contaminated,” Heck said.
Heck believes the conviction will stand.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” said Heck, who has served as Montgomery County prosecutor since 1992. “This individual was positively identified by someone that knew him, someone who was there and someone injured, almost killed at the hands of Samuel Moreland.”
That eyewitness is Tia Talbott’s son, Dayron, who was 11 years old at the time of the shooting. He said he still remembers Moreland opening fire: “Standing in the doorway with a rifle pointed at my grandma and her picking up a bottle and him shooting at the same time she threw that bottle.”
Heck said evidence in the case has been transferred to a lab, but the results may not be known for several months. Could Moreland seek additional appeals? Heck said he would oppose it.
“What I see in many other cases in general, is that so many times they file for more testing and more testing and as long as a judge will keep ordering it I can understand a defense lawyer is just going to do it. It takes the prosecutor, which we do, to object and say there’s no reason for this because we’ve already done it. And for a judge to say, no, you have reached the end of the line here because there is no reason to do it, legally, logically, reasonably, nothing” Heck said.
More delays possible
Tia Talbott is hoping a final decision comes soon because she and her family members still suffer from the trauma of the murders. When it happened, she was at the grocery store, returning home to find an awful scene. She still wonders on occasion if she could have stopped the shooting had she been home, though she knows that if she had been there, the odds are she too would have been killed.
Moreland has not commented on the case, despite repeated requests by this news organization to interview him over the last decade. More recently the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections denied a request for an interview.
Spokesperson JoEllen Smith stated “Due to input received from the facility regarding his medical or mental health state, DRC is going to deny this request at this time.”
Moreland remains on Ohio’s Death Row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. Given the more than two-dozen inmates already in line to be executed, with actual dates set, the earliest he could be scheduled is roughly five years from now, and that’s if his appeals end soon.
Talbott knows more delays are possible.
“I went from saying this is gonna happen to praying that I outlive Samuel Moreland, because I can’t believe it,” she said. “He murders our family and gets three meals a day.”