Rizer clemency hearing held in Columbus

By Sarah Hawley - shawley@aimmediamidwest.com

COLUMBUS — A clemency hearing for a Meigs County woman convicted in the shooting death of her husband was held in Columbus on Monday.

Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney James K. Stanley represented the State of Ohio before the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Parole Board in Paula Rizer’s Non-Death Penalty Clemency Hearing in Columbus, Ohio.

Rizer applied for clemency, specifically a pardon or commutation of sentence, based upon her claim that she killed the victim, her husband, Kenneth Rizer, Sr., because she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome.

According to a news release from Stanley, Rizer killed the victim on April 3, 2009. Evidence showed that Rizer shot the victim five times while he was seated in a recliner. Rizer originally claimed she accidentally killed the victim but later claimed she killed the victim in self-defense. Rizer finally claimed that she killed the victim in self-defense and alleged that she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome which caused her to have a bona fide belief that the victim was about to cause her great bodily harm or death at the time she killed him.

Stanley and Victim Assistance Director Theda Petrasko said that Rizer has changed her story many times since the shooting, including in interviews soon after, during the two trials in the case and even as recently as Monday when she was quested by the Parole Board for approximately an hour.

Following the shooting in 2009, Rizer was indicted for Aggravated Murder and Murder. Rizer’s first jury trial took place in the fall of 2009 and resulted in an acquittal on the Aggravated Murder charge and a hung jury on the Murder charge when the jury could not reach a verdict. The jury had voted 11-1 in favor of conviction before deadlocking. Rizer’s second trial took place in January 2010, and the jury convicted her of Murder. The trial court sentenced Rizer to 15 years (plus three years on a firearms specification) to life in prison.

Rizer’s motions for post-conviction relief were denied. The Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld her conviction in 2011. The Ohio Supreme Court declined to review Rizer’s case. Rizer applied for clemency earlier this year.

Clemency is an act of mercy or leniency granted upon a prisoner and exercised by the governor if recommended by the Parole Board. Pardons and commutations of sentence are forms of clemency. A pardon is an act of grace or forgiveness that remits punishment and relieves a prisoner from the consequences of a conviction. A commutation of sentence is a reduction of a sentence, stated Stanley.

Regarding Battered Woman Syndrome, Stanley stated, it refers to characteristics, behavior, and symptoms associated with women who are victims of domestic violence. Battered Woman Syndrome is not a defense or justification for committing a crime. A defendant charged with an offense involving using force against an alleged abuser will often argue she acted in self-defense and use an expert witness to argue she acted with force because she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome. Claims that a defendant suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome are used to try to establish the second element of self-defense, which requires a defendant to prove she had a bona fide belief that she was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and the only means of escape was the use of force.

Rizer had claimed Battered Woman Syndrome as part of her second trial, but the jury rejected her claim as they convicted her of murder, said Stanley.

The Ohio Parole Board reviewed approximately 14 cases this year in which inmates alleged they committed criminal offenses because they suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome. Five of those 14 inmates were granted hearings, and Rizer was among those selected for a full hearing.

At Rizer’s hearing, she testified, via video from the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, before the eight-member Parole Board regarding the events of April 3, 2009, as well as her contention that she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome. Rizer was represented by Attorney Paula Brown and Attorney Richard Parsons at the hearing. Attorney Brown testified before the board in support of Rizer’s application. Additionally, Dr. Karla Fischer, Kort Gatterdam, and Nancy Grigsby, and advocate for the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, testified in support of Rizer.

Stanley testified before the Parole Board and argued that Rizer did not suffer from Battered Woman Syndrome and that the victim had never abused Rizer in any way. Major Scott Trussell of the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office testified before the Parole Board regarding what happened on April 3, 2009 and how Rizer’s version of what happened changed multiple times. Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agent Larry Willis testified before the Parole Board regarding his investigation of the criminal case. Trussell and Willis were both involved in the original investigation.

Meigs County Victim Assistance Program Director Theda Petrasko testified before the Parole Board on behalf of the victim’s family and read several statements from family, friends, and a co-worker of the victim. Stanley concluded the State’s presentation with a brief summary and request for the Parole Board to recommend against granting clemency to Rizer.

Petrasko explained that it was her role to tell the Parole Board of who the victim was as she and Stanley work to get justice for the family.

After more than five hours of testimony and questioning, the Parole Board entered into executive session for deliberations and voting. The outcome of the vote is not public information at this time. The Parole Board has 60 days from the date of the hearing to provide a written report and recommendation to Ohio Governor John Kasich who has until the end of his term in January 2019 to either approve or deny Rizer’s application for clemency.

“My goal was to keep the focus on the victim, Kenneth Rizer, Sr., so the board members could have a true sense of who he was. He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He was kind, caring, and gentle. He was respected and beloved by all who knew him. He absolutely was not abusive,” Stanley said.

In addition to the State’s participating legal team, Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood and dozens of the victim’s family members and friends attended the hearing.

“We went to Columbus to continue our fight for Kenneth Rizer, Sr., his family, and his friends,” Stanley said. “We did everything we could to show the Parole Board that the applicant’s argument that she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome was nothing more than self-serving, baseless claims without a shred of credible, corroborative evidence. I’m confident the Board will do what is right and recommend against clemency for the applicant, keeping a convicted murderer behind bars.”

Petrasko noted that it was “a shame that the family had been drug through this twice at trial, and now a third time is devastating.”

“It was very emotional. Now they have to wait and see as their dad’s name was drug through the mud for something he never did,” said Petrasko.

In addition to the testimony, Stanley submitted information to the Parole Board a week before the hearing which was reviewed prior to Monday.

Victim statements were submitted by members of the victim’s family and friends of the victim, as well as a petition with 279 signatures in opposition of clemency for Paula Rizer.

A portion of the information provided in a news release by Prosecutor James K. Stanley.

By Sarah Hawley


Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.