Convicted Murderer Up For Parole

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An Athens man convicted of the 1983 aggravated murder of an Ohio University student has a parole hearing scheduled for next month.

Merlin Ryan, 49, has a hearing set for Sept. 19, according to a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Ryan is being held in London Correctional Institution, and has been in prison since 1984, according to the department's website.

Ryan was convicted of killing Ohio University international student Ali Bulgasem Ali of Libya.

The 29-year-old Ali was killed in an OU utility tunnel, where he was stabbed in the back 11 times and had his throat slit. According to court testimony, Ryan and another man, Ralph Prather, then 23, took Ali down into the tunnel on the pretext of smoking marijuana but with the intent of robbing him. Prather struck Ali and Ryan stabbed him. Testimony indicated that little, if any, money was obtained in the robbery.

Ryan pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and aggravated robbery as his trial entered its second day of jury selection in Athens County Common Pleas Court. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a death penalty specification. Judge William Rowland sentenced Ryan to life in prison for the killing and gave him a concurrent sentence of 10 to 25 years for the robbery.

Initially, Prather was also charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. Ryan had told authorities that Prather also stabbed Ali, but after Ryan was sentenced Ryan admitted that he was the only one who wielded the knife. Prosecutors then amended the charges against Prather to complicity to aggravated murder and complicity to aggravated robbery. Prather admitted to authorities that he intended to rob Ali, but denied he intended for the international student to die. At his trial, a jury convicted Prather in the robbery but found him innocent in the murder. Prather was sentenced to seven to 25 years in prison and has since been released.

In November of 2009, outgoing Gov. Ted Strickland denied Ryan a pardon. Strickland’s decision was in accordance with a recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board, which voted 6-0 to give Ryan an unfavorable recommendation.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said Friday that he intends to write a letter opposing Ryan's parole.