|Ohio Death Chamber and Gurney|
For the 3rd time in a decade, the Ohio Supreme Court has set an execution date for a death row inmate convicted of killing a Cleveland man in 1986.
Gregory Lott's execution had been scheduled in 2002 and 2004, but he won last-minute stays both times based on 2 different arguments that he was mentally disabled and that the prosecution in his case failed to reveal key evidence proving his innocence.
Both arguments ultimately failed, and the Ohio Supreme Court on Friday scheduled the 51-year-old's execution for March 19, 2014.
"It's time for Mr. Lott to be executed," said Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor Katherine Mullin. "He has certainly had an extensive period of time and opportunities to litigate his claims, and they've all been denied. It's time for justice to be served, both for the victim's family and the citizens of Ohio."
Lott's Columbus defense attorney, Gregory Meyers, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Lott was convicted of attacking and setting fire to 84-year-old John McGrath in his Cleveland home on July 15, 1986; McGrath died in the hospital 8 days later.
Lott's 1st execution had been set for Aug. 27, 2002, in what was to be the 1st execution scheduled after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional for mentally disabled killers, saying it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
The Ohio Supreme Court granted Lott a stay of execution, but his argument eventually was rejected after 2 experts found that he was not mentally disabled. His execution was rescheduled for April 27, 2004.
5 days before his new execution date, a 3-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati granted him another stay, deciding 2-1 in favor of Lott's petition to have a federal court decide whether he deserved a new trial.
Lott's attorneys argued that Lott didn't get a fair trial, saying the prosecutor in the case withheld evidence that would have proven his innocence.
That evidence included McGrath's description to police of his killer. On his death bed, McGrath said the man who killed him was a light-skinned black man with long hair; Lott is a medium- to dark-skinned black man with very short hair.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley eventually rejected Lott's claims and said he didn't deserve a new trial.
In her ruling on Sept. 28, 2007, O'Malley acknowledged that the evidence used against Lott largely was circumstantial, but said his attorneys had failed to demonstrate that he likely wouldn't have been convicted had McGrath's description of his killer been known at trial.
She also cited McGrath's tenuous state when he described his killer, police evidence of Lott's fingerprints inside McGrath's home, and what police said was a tearful confession by Lott, which wasn't allowed to be used during trial.
Mullin said prosecutors are confident in Lott's guilt, "otherwise we wouldn't be attempting to proceed with his execution."
In a jailhouse interview in 2004, Lott told The Associated Press that he thought McGrath's description of him would have made a big difference.
"I didn't kill him and I did not get a fair trial," Lott said.
Source: Associated Press, August 17, 2012
Ohio Death-Row Inmate Declines To Ask For Mercy
An Ohio inmate set for execution next month for killing 2 men he didn't know along a county road declined to ask for mercy from the state's parole board during a hearing Thursday, a rare but not unprecedented move.
Normally, attorneys argue for hours about why their client deserves a life sentence rather than the death penalty.
But inmate Donald Palmer asked his attorney, David Stebbins, not to argue for clemency and not to comment publicly on why he made that decision, Stebbins said after a hearing before the Ohio Parole Board in Columbus.
"It's fairly rare and hasn't happened for probably a couple years now," Stebbins said. "Some inmates just don't like to go through the process. You know, if they are competent to make that decision, it's something that we unfortunately need to respect."
Palmer is scheduled for execution Sept. 20, convicted of fatally shooting the two men in the head along a Belmont County road in eastern Ohio on May 8, 1989.
The board still can recommend clemency for Palmer to Gov. John Kasich when it issues its decision next week, but Stebbins said he expects the execution to proceed and doesn't plan on filing any further appeals.
The last death-row inmate to decline to ask for mercy from the board was Marvallous Keene in June 2009, according to state corrections records. Keene was executed by lethal injection about a month after his hearing for the slayings of five people during a 1992 crime rampage in Dayton that became known as the "Christmas killings."
Keene's attorneys said he wanted to prevent any additional pain to his family or his victims' families. The board voted against recommending clemency to then-Gov. Ted Strickland.
Since then, attorneys for 29 inmates went before the board to argue for clemency, department records show.
Belmont County prosecutor Christopher Berhalter said Thursday he was surprised Palmer didn't seek mercy, pointing out that he has spent more than 2 decades appealing his case in state and federal courts.
Berhalter told the board the execution should proceed because there's no dispute about Palmer's guilt and because of the brutality of the crimes that claimed 2 innocent men's lives. He showed the board pictures of their bloody bodies.
Court records that describe Palmer's statements to police say Palmer and another man, Edward Hill, were driving from Columbus to the Belmont County home of a man who had dated Palmer's ex-wife and Hill's sister.
While nearing the residence, a man who was keeping an eye on the home, Charles Sponhaltz, lightly hit the back of the pickup with his own truck and yelled at them: "What in the hell are you trying to prove?" according to the records. Palmer then shot Sponhaltz, a 43-year-old father of 3, twice in the head, the records say.
Steven Vargo, a passing motorist, stopped at the scene and asked, "What the hell did you guys do?" Palmer told police, the records say. Palmer then shot him twice in the head, the records say. Vargo was a 41-year-old father of 2.
Palmer and Hill dumped Sponhaltz's body in a field near the scene of the killings and fled, leaving Vargo's body in the road, according to the records.
Hill, 46, was convicted for his role in the crimes and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison.
Valerie Vargo Jolliffee, 51, the widow of Steven Vargo, said she plans to attend Palmer's execution.
"He ruined my life," she said, adding that she and Vargo fell in love at first sight and had been married just 2 years when her husband was killed. "I was looking forward to growing old with him."
She said she has never heard Palmer apologize for what he did.
"I just can't wait until it's over," she said. "And it won't be over until they put him to death."
Source: Associated Press, August 17, 2012