Judge rejects Ohio killer's execution stay request

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS AP Legal Affairs Writer Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Changes Ohio made to its written capital punishment policies in two previous executions weren't significant enough to create constitutional violations, a federal judge said Monday as he rejected a condemned killer's attempt to stop his execution next week.

Death row inmate Brett Hartman argues the state changed its procedures during April and September executions, and he also challenged the constitutionality of allowing the state to cut short inmates' final statements.

Federal judge Gregory Frost said Hartman hadn't provided enough evidence he could successfully defend his arguments at trial. And he criticized the method Hartman's lawyers used for raising the challenge.

"Ohio does not have a perfect execution system, but it has a constitutional system that it appears to be following," Frost said in his 56-page decision.

Hartman, 38, is scheduled to die Nov. 13 for the Sept. 9, 1997, slaying of 46-year-old Winda Snipes of Akron. Snipes was beaten, strangled with a cord, stabbed 138 times, had her throat slit and her hands cut off, records show.

Hartman claims he is innocent, but has also argued that if courts reject that argument, he should be spared because of the effects of a "remarkably chaotic and nomadic early childhood." Hartman's attorneys also say he is a changed man after 15 years in prison.

Hartman's attorney said they were disappointed with the ruling and hadn't decided whether to appeal.

"But we can take some measure of encouragement that the state of Ohio's practices in executing its own citizens still remain subject to close monitoring by the federal courts and by those representing the condemned," said public defender Allen Bohnert.

Hartman argued that in recent executions, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction permitted the wrong individuals to perform tasks reserved only for medical team members.

He also argued that paperwork related to the creation of a system overseeing executions had been wrongly filled out.

"Neither premise proves persuasive," Frost said.

Frost said that allowing the prison warden to turn off an inmate's microphone if the final statement is deemed "intentionally offensive" is part of Ohio's interest in preserving order during an execution.

Frost criticized Hartman's attorneys for filing a written request to delay the execution last week without specifics on the allegations. Frost held a hearing but warned he might not do the same again.

"If his life were not important enough stakes to Hartman to warrant his bothering to tell this Court in his motion why a stay is necessary, the question is why the Court should bother to hold a hearing on the matter," Frost said.

Hartman's attorneys said last week they were tired of playing "Constitutional Whack-a-Mole" when it came to challenging the way the state carries out executions.

By this they meant raising allegations about changes, only to see the state then fix the problem. Frost called this strategy misguided.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.