A man who fatally shot his three sons while they slept in 1982, shortly after his wife filed for divorce, was executed Tuesday with each of his hands clenched in an obscene gesture.
Reginald Brooks of East Cleveland died at 2:04 p.m., ending a nearly six-month break in the use of capital punishment in Ohio, which often trails only Texas in the number of annual inmate executions.
Dressed in the standard white T-shirt and blue pants, Brooks declined to make a final statement and remained silent as he received the lethal injection. Witnesses, which included his former wife and her sisters, had a view of his left hand, its middle finger raised. Prison officials said he was making the same gesture with his right hand.
Brooks' actions appear to have been unprecedented since the state resumed executions in 1999. Condemned Ohio inmates in the past have criticized their sentences, professed their innocence, given angry final statements and pleaded to be spared, but never made an obscene gesture.
Brooks' lawyer said the gesture reflected the inmate's anger at the final set of court decisions.
"That was his reaction to how things had gone down in the last couple of days," defense attorney Michael Benza said.
"Even Reggie, the mentally ill, paranoid schizophrenic, understood how wrong the process was," he said. "It wasn't to the family, it was to the system that had treated him so badly these last few weeks."
State and federal courts rejected attorneys' arguments that Brooks was not mentally competent and that the government hid relevant evidence that could have affected his case. The execution was delayed by more than three hours as attorneys exhausted Brooks' appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court refused Tuesday to halt the execution.
He is the fourth inmate in Ohio to be put to death using the surgical sedative pentobarbital as a stand-alone execution drug.
Beverly Brooks, who found her 11-, 15- and 17-year-old sons dead when she returned from work, and her two sisters sat silently during the execution, gripping each other's shoulders or hands and occasionally sniffling. They were joined by a close friend, and all four wore white T-shirts printed with a photo of the boys.
Beverly Brooks did not comment, but one of her sisters, Monica Stephens, spoke afterward on behalf of the family, saying the execution ended a terrible chapter in their lives.
"Our nephews are gone, and they'll never be replaced," she said. "The memories we'll always have. The what-ifs we'll always have."
Reginald Brooks' two defense attorneys and two spiritual advisers also watched him die, sharing only whispers during the process.
At 66, Brooks is the oldest person put to death since Ohio resumed executions.
The defense argued he was a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from mental illness long before he shot his sons in the head as they slept at their East Cleveland home on a Saturday morning. Defense attorneys said Brooks believed his co-workers and wife were poisoning him and that he maintained his innocence, offering conspiracy theories about the killings that involved police, his relatives and a look-alike.
Beverly Brooks has said she believes the killings were an act of revenge for her divorce filing, not the result of mental illness.
Prosecutors acknowledged Brooks was mentally ill but disputed the notions that it caused the murders or made him incompetent. They said he planned merciless killings, bought a revolver two weeks in advance, confirmed he'd be home alone with the boys, targeted them when they wouldn't resist and fled on a bus with a suitcase containing a birth certificate and personal items that could help him start a new life.
Brooks was found competent for trial, and a three-judge panel convicted him.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors withheld information that would have supported a mental health defense and led the court to rule differently. They said newly discovered notes that described Brooks' erratic behavior and indicated his mental health were not turned over to Brooks' defense.
Former Judge Harry Hanna, one of the three on the original panel, told the Ohio Parole Board he would not have voted for the death penalty if he'd had information from police reports that were provided to the defense more recently.
Brooks' lawyers filmed Hanna talking about his decision and presented the DVD to Gov. John Kasich as he debated whether to grant clemency.
If a three-judge panel hears a death penalty case, it must vote unanimously for a death sentence under Ohio law.
The parole board recommended that Kasich deny Brooks clemency, which he did. Brooks' attorneys showed Brooks the DVD Monday night in Lucasville.
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and JoAnne Viviano in Columbus contributed to this report.
Kantele Franko can be reached at www.twitter.com/kantele10.