Condemned Ohio killer of 2 asks parole board for mercy

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Posted: Feb 02, 2017 6:01 PM
Condemned Ohio killer of 2 asks parole board for mercy

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Attorneys for a condemned Ohio killer who shot two people to death in back-to-back robberies over two days asked the state parole board on Thursday to spare his life.

A life sentence without parole is an appropriate alternative for death row inmate Gary Otte, who has matured and made efforts to better himself in prison, federal public defenders argued in court documents filed with the board.

Otte's drug addiction, intoxication and depression led to the slayings, and Otte also had poor legal assistance at trial, they argued.

"Although these crimes are terrible, Gary is not," Otte's attorneys wrote in a Jan. 26 filing with the board. "He started out as a good boy. His goodness was derailed by bullying, social rejection, and developmental deficits."

Otte, 45, was sentenced to die for the Feb. 12, 1992, killing of Robert Wasikowski and the Feb. 13, 1992, killing of Sharon Kostura. Both slayings took place in an apartment building in Parma, in suburban Cleveland.

The board concluded an all-day hearing late Thursday afternoon on Otte's request. The board will make its recommendation by March to Gov. John Kasich, who has the final say.

Otte's execution is set for March 15, but it's up in the air because of Ohio's ongoing problems finding lethal injection drugs that pass constitutional muster.

Many Ohio offenders who killed multiple people are serving life without parole, Otte's attorneys argue. Those include three ex-death row inmates who received clemency from Ohio governors, including Shawn Hawkins, convicted of a 1989 double killing in the Cincinnati area and spared by Kasich, a Republican, six years ago.

The Cuyahoga County prosecutor argues Otte still won't take full responsibility and tries 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, Michael O'Malley, the county prosecutor, said in a Jan. 30 filing.

"Otte is relying upon a hybrid strategy intended to reduce his own culpability, blaming at various points his attorneys, his peers, his victims, his upbringing, and his drug addiction," O'Malley said. "None of these excuses is persuasive."

A federal judge has barred Ohio using its newly proposed three-drug execution method, saying the proposed first drug, a sedative, put inmates at "substantial risk of serious harm."

Kasich didn't hesitate when asked Wednesday if the state will be able to find drugs that pass court muster: "I don't know."

"I can't tell the judges what to do," he said. "Some of them are probably philosophically opposed to the death penalty and no matter what we do they're going to remain opposed to it."

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins