Death Row Inmate Spared Due To Medical Condition, Upbringing

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Sidney Cornwell Poses in front of backdrop
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s governor spared the life of Sidney Cornwell, a man facing execution Tuesday for killing a 3-year-old, in part because the convict had an undiagnosed genetic condition that led to developmental disabilities and large breasts as a child.

Sidney Cornwell’s sentence will be commuted to life without the possibility of parole, Gov. Ted Strickland said Monday.

The Ohio Parole Board had recommended against mercy for Cornwell, but Strickland said jurors might have chosen a different sentence if they had known of the condition, called Klinefelter Syndrome. The genetic condition caused Cornwell to develop motor and language skills late and gave him large breasts as a boy, which led to repeated teasing and required surgery.

Cornwell, 33, of Youngstown, was scheduled to die by injection Tuesday for the killing of Jessica Ballew. The girl was on her porch in Youngstown in 1996 as Cornwell and other Crips gang members were hunting for a member of a rival gang. He opened fire on people who apparently knew his intended victim, killing the girl.

Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said he did not believe Cornwell deserved mercy.

“Although I disagree with the governor’s decision, I respect his right to make that decision,” Gains said.

Cornwell’s public defenders had cited the medical condition, in which males are born with an extra X chromosome, in seeking mercy. They also said Cornwell was abused by his father and fell under the influence of gangs as a teenager.

Cornwell’s trial attorney did not get medical records that would have been relevant, including that he had a testosterone deficiency and had undergone breast reduction surgery, Assistant Ohio Public Defender Rob Lowe said.

“This is a case that the jury just did not get all the information to know who Sidney was, and whether he should live or die for the crime he committed,” Lowe said.

Cornwell was diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome within the past several months. Lowe said earlier attempts to have the cost of testing covered were rejected, and it was only recently that the money was made available to have the two-step genetic test done.

Another of Cornwell’s public defenders, Andrew King, expressed gratitude to Strickland and said he made the right decision in the case.

“We also want to acknowledge that Sidney’s still remorseful and regretful for what he did,” King said.

Seventeen men have been put to death since Strickland took office in 2007. Cornwell is the third death row inmate this year to be spared by the governor.

In September, Strickland cited “legitimate questions” about evidence used to convict Kevin Keith, though he said he believed the inmate committed the crimes of which he was accused. In June, he also spared Richard Nields, who strangled his girlfriend during an argument, because of court decisions that questioned the appropriateness of a death sentence.

The decision is the last Strickland must make regarding a death penalty case. He was defeated in this month’s election and will be succeeded by Republican John Kasich in January. Ohio’s next execution is scheduled for Feb. 17.

Kasich also may have to address concerns about a shortage of a lethal injection drug that has prompted execution delays across the country.

State prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said Cornwell was in the process of being moved off death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.

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