In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Ohio executes Gary Otte

Gary Otte
LUCASVILLE, Ohio — An Ohio man was executed Wednesday morning for killing two people in back-to-back robberies in 1992.

Death row prisoner Gary Otte, 45, was put to death at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville with a lethal combination of three drugs.

The prison system announced the time of death as 10:54 a.m. A prison spokeswoman said he didn't sleep overnight, spending his last hours visiting with his parents and calling friends and family.

In his final statement, Otte professed his love for his family and said: "God is good all the time." He said: "I'm sorry," then sighed deeply. He sang a religious song, with words such as "I want to know you Lord" and "I want to serve you Lord." He stopped singing at 10:39.

Otte then spoke his last words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they're doing. Amen."

His stomach rose and fell several times between 10:41 and 10:42. Two guards did a consciousness check at 10:42. Otte's stomach continued to rise and fall a couple more minutes, then appeared to go still.

Otte was sentenced to die for the Feb. 12, 1992, killing of Robert Wasikowski and the killing the next day of Sharon Kostura. Both slayings took place in Parma, in suburban Cleveland. The state planned to put the 45-year-old Otte to death at 10 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville with a lethal combination of three drugs.

About two hours before his scheduled execution, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal contending he shouldn't be put to death because of his age at the time of the crime. Otte was 20 when he killed Wasikowski and Kostura.

State Justice William O'Neill dissented on the Ohio Supreme Court decision. The U.S. Supreme Court had already denied Otte's attempt to delay execution.

JoEllen Smith, a state prisons department spokeswoman, said Otte didn't sleep overnight, spending his time visiting with his parents and talking to friends and family on the phone. She said he showered early Wednesday, and shortly before 7 a.m. was praying with his parents.

Smith said checks of his arms Tuesday indicated his veins were capable of accepting the IV used in lethal injection.

Otte arrived at the prison on Tuesday. His last meal included a mushroom and Swiss cheese hamburger, a quart of Heath Bar ice cream and a slice of banana cream pie.

The execution was the second in Ohio this year, following the use of lethal injection in July on a man convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter in Akron in 1993. That was the first execution in Ohio in more than three years, a delay caused by difficulties finding drugs to use in capital punishment.

Otte unsuccessfully challenged the use of the first drug in Ohio's lethal-injection procedure, a sedative called midazolam, which was involved in problematic executions in Arizona and Oklahoma.

Midazolam also has been used in executions without discernible problems, including the execution of Ronald Phillips in Ohio in July.

Otte's attorneys said midazolam may not render prisoners so deeply unconscious that they avoid suffering serious pain when the last two drugs are administered.

The state argued there was no evidence that Phillips wasn't properly anesthetized during his execution.

GaryOtte family came by to thank protesters - brother, aunt, father, cousin. "After 25 years this was unnecessary."
In Otte's criminal case, authorities said he asked to go inside Wasikowski's apartment to use the phone and then shot the 61-year-old and stole about $400. The next day, authorities say, Otte forced his way into the apartment of the 45-year-old Kostura in the same building, shot her and stole $45 and her car keys.

The Ohio Parole Board unanimously rejected a request by Otte in February, citing the heinous nature of the killings. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, also denied Otte clemency.

Otte's attorneys had argued a life sentence without parole was an appropriate alternative, saying Otte has matured and made efforts to better himself in prison.

Otte's drug addiction, intoxication and depression led to the slayings, and Otte had poor legal assistance at trial, his public defenders said in documents filed with the parole board.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor said Otte still wouldn't take full responsibility and tried to blame others, including the victims.

The killings weren't spur-of-the-moment decisions by Otte, who lingered in the victims' apartments to rob them and even turned the TV up to block out Kostura's pleas for help, county prosecutor Michael O'Malley said in a Jan. 30 filing with the parole board.

The state has scheduled another 2 dozen executions between now and 2020.

Otte becomes the 55th condemned inmate to be put to death in Ohio since the state resumed capital punishment in 1999.

Otte becomes the 18th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1460th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Source: The Associated Press, Sept. 13, 2017

Gary Otte dies as Ohio executes second death row inmate this year

LUCASVILLE, Ohio -- The state of Ohio executed Gary Otte on Wednesday morning, more than 25 years after he robbed and murdered two people at a Parma apartment complex.

Otte, 45, of Terre Haute, Indiana died at 10:54 a.m. by lethal injection in the state's "death house" at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. There appeared to be no complications with the execution, which took about 15 minutes to complete.

Prison officials strapped the heavyset, balding and goateed Otte to a gurney, with his head in full view of the families of his victims. Otte's stomach moved up and down for a few minutes as the execution team began its series of three injections.

He stopped moving at about 10:44 a.m.

He laid still for another eight minutes before a member of the execution team walked in and checked his heartbeat. The coroner then entered the chamber and pronounced him dead two minutes later.

Otte was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to death for robbing and killing Robert Wasikowski, 61, and Sharon Kostura, 45, at a Parma apartment complex in February of that year.

The victims' family members sat in the viewing area to watch as Otte took his final breaths. Otte's witnesses were his attorneys, spiritual advisers and a nurse.

The reactions of the victims' family members, which included Wasikowski's daughter and brother and Kostura's sister, brother-in-law and niece, were mostly muted. Wasikowski's daughter shook throughout most of the execution and appeared concerned as she was led to her seat that Otte could see her in his final moments.

As a last statement, Otte gave a thumbs up to his witnesses and said, "I'd like to profess my love for my family," who visited him at the prison on Tuesday and Wednesday but did not witness his execution.

He then said "I'm sorry" to the victims' families.

Otte then sang three verses of the gospel song "The Greatest Thing" and closed with a Bible verse: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. Amen."

Wasikowski and Kostura's family members did not make a statement following the execution.

Otte spent Tuesday evening visiting with his loved ones and his attorneys, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said. He did not sleep and spent the night on the phone, talking with friends. His mood was described as emotional, but he was also in good spirits, Smith said.

He was served his last meal of burgers, fried food, ice cream and donuts on Tuesday evening, after visits by his parents and his attorneys. Around midnight, prison guards removed his cheese sticks, string cheese and ice cream, which were all part of his requested special meal, Smith said.

On Wednesday morning, he again visited with his parents and prayed, Smith said, giving them a hug through prison bars one last time. He met with his spiritual advisers, again with his attorneys and talked with a friend on the phone. He also sang.

Otte took a shower before his execution but did not eat the breakfast served to him.

Like many inmates before him, Otte and his supporters tried their hardest to halt his execution. He waged a series of legal challenges to Ohio's methods of execution and death penalty statute. All were denied, with the latest ruling coming by the Ohio Supreme Court less than two hours before his death.

The Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich rejected Otte's arguments that his life should be spared because he was repeatedly bullied as a child. That bullying led to drug and alcohol use and depression, which led him to commit his crimes, his lawyers argued.

The parole board said in February that Otte had a good upbringing with a loving family.

Meanwhile, opponents of the death penalty implored Gov. John Kasich and the state in the days and hours leading up to Otte's execution to intervene and call it off.

An attorney for Otte later said his stomach movements and the appearance of tears by his eyes during the execution showed that Otte was in pain after being injected with a sedative. The attorney is part of a team challenging the state's use of the sedative, called midazolam, saying it doesn't render a patient sufficiently unconscious as to not feel severe pain.

Otte was the 55th person the state has executed since it restarted the death penalty in 1999.

Otte, in a letter to Splinter News, blamed the actions that led to his imprisonment and fate on a crack cocaine addiction.

"I took personal responsibility for my life and became accountable for my future actions," Otte wrote in his letter. "I've become a new person through this life giving application. The fears I once operated from have vanished through my reliance on God for all my support.

"I am no longer defined by my past failures, but by God's love."

Otte is the second death row inmate the state has executed this year. Akron child killer Ronald Phillips died by lethal injection in July. Phillips' execution came after the state stopped putting inmates to death for more than two-and-a-half years, after the execution team had problems as inmate Dennis McGuire died in January 2014.

Source: cleveland.com, Eric Heisig, Sept. 13, 2017

Attorney for executed Parma murderer says she believes inmate suffered pain during lethal injection

Ohio's death chamber
An attorney for Gary Otte, a man put to death Wednesday for killing 2 people in Parma in 1992, said she saw signs that her client experienced pain as the execution team injected him with a sedative, the 1st of 3-drug combination.

Carol Wright, the supervising attorney for the Columbus Federal Public Defender's Office's capital unit, watched Otte's execution from the viewing area of the state's death house. The execution was carried out Wednesday morning at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, and Otte was pronounced dead at 10:54 a.m.

Wright said Otte's movements and actions as he received midazolam, a sedative, indicated to her that Otte felt "pain or sensations" as he was about to die.

Her statements on what she saw mirror legal arguments she and her team have made that say midazolam does not render inmates deeply unconscious, and its use in executions could lead the state to violate an inmate's constitutional right.

Otte's stomach raised and lowered several times after the execution team began the injections. That stopped after several minutes, presumably when the execution team gave him a paralytic drug. Then the execution team gave Otte a drug that stopped his heart.

Wright said the stomach movements were abnormal and evidence that Otte was struggling to get air. She also said Otte was crying.

She said she saw these reactions and got out of her seat to call Dayton federal magistrate Judge Michael Merz, who presides over litigation brought by death row inmates challenging the state's use of the 3-drug combination in executions.

That caused another problem, Wright said.

"They would not allow me to leave the room until several minutes passed," Wright said of the staff in the death house, adding that protocol says she should be allowed to leave immediately.

A staff member eventually let Wright out, and she called the prison's waiting room so one of her colleagues could reach Merz on the phone.

"It was my hope to alert the court to what I believed was a constitutional violation," she said.

That took several more minutes, and by the time Merz was on the line, it appeared the execution team had already given Otte the 2nd injection. She told Merz that the stomach movements stopped and she did not see any more tears, and Merz declined to intervene.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said department staff handled Wright's request to leave the room appropriately. Smith said in an email that "we followed proper security protocol, and once her identity and intention was verified she was given permission to exit the room."

The whole process led Wright to believe that the state's execution team was ill-prepared and made mistakes.

The state disagreed.

"The execution was carried out in compliance with the execution policy and without complication," Smith said.

Otte, 45, of Terre Haute, Indiana, was executed for robbing and murdering Robert Wasikowski, 61, and Sharon Kostura, 45, in February 1992. He's the second Ohio inmate executed this year.

Merz declared Ohio's latest execution protocol unconstitutional in January, but a federal appeals court overturned his ruling.

The state used this protocol after it had problems during the execution of death-row inmate Dennis McGuire in January 2014. McGuire was executed with a previously unused drug combination.

Source: cleveland.com, September 14, 2017

Death penalty protesters spread message in Warren

"It isn't the worst of the worst who gets put to death. It is usually the poorest of the poorest."

The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville
As they held up signs on Courthouse Square condemning state-sponsored executions, a group of women and men grew silent and bowed their heads at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

At that moment, Gary Otte, 45, was being put to death at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville for the 1992 killings of Robert Wasikowski and Sharon Kostura outside of Cleveland.

"We aren't out here because we have any sympathy for his actions. We strongly condemn what he did," said Pat Rogan, organizer of the 8-person protest. "We understand the severity of his actions and believe the state has a right to punish him."

However, there is a difference between revenge and justice, Rogan said.

Most of the participants were there because their religious beliefs drive them to support a natural life cycle, from birth to natural death, including Catholics, Quakers and Universal Unitarians, Rogan said.

On top of their religious beliefs, she said the group believes the system that puts people to death can be unfair.

"It isn't the worst of the worst who gets put to death. It is usually the poorest of the poorest. You are more likely to get the death penalty for killing a white person, not for killing a person of color. It's just not a fair system," Rogan said.

A life sentence makes more sense financially, ethically and avoids the possibility of handing down the ultimate sentence in an imperfect system, Rogan said.

Alice and Staughton Lynd of Niles are Quakers and attorneys and have been focused on the death penalty issue for years.

"I have been appalled by the death penalty since I first learned of it," Staughton Lynd said. "I couldn't believe it existed, it is a terrible thing."

The Lynds have studied several death row cases, including the 1993 Lucasville riot that led to death sentences for five people authorities said were responsible for 10 deaths during the 10-day riot.

Staughton Lynd said he has often found shoddy evidence at the center of prosecutors' cases and found they relied on the testimony of people whose stories did not match medical examination findings.

Alice Lynd said eyewitness testimony can be faulty, and state-sponsored executions should not be dependent on the reliability of someone's memory. Defendants may refuse to take plea bargains because they are truly innocent and find themselves at the mercy of a jury, Lynd said.

But juries are often biased toward the prosecution, figuring the state wouldn't go through the expense of a trial if it weren't sure, Alice Lynd said.

And, "The definition of aggravated murder is intent to cause death with prior planning. That's exactly what execution is," Alice Lynd said. "Think of that, a man sitting there counting down the minutes to his death."

Rogan said she has visited the "death house" on the day of an execution.

"It is surreal. The corrections officers are so friendly and accommodating - asking him if there is anything he needs, anything he wants. It is unnerving. The officers are just doing their jobs, and they are great people I have a lot of respect for. But it isn't fair to the corrections officers, to force them to participate in a murder," Rogan said.

Source: tribtoday.com, Sept. 14, 2017

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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