Portage killers awaiting execution

By Deanna Hohler Bottar Record-Courier staff writ Published:

The man sentenced to die for the 1985 stabbing death of Carol and Charles Klima's 15-year-old son, Mark, in Rootstown has been on Death Row for the past 12 years.

A second man, Tyrone Noling, 25, of Alliance, joined Mark Klima's killer, Mark Wiles, 34, on Death Row in 1996. Noling was convicted of shooting to death Bearnhardt and Cora Hartig, both 81, in their Atwater home in 1990 when he was 18.

Noling and Wiles, who were sentenced in Portage County Common Pleas Court, are two of 175 men awaiting execution on Ohio's Death Row. A prisoner has not been put to death in the state since 1963.

The death of the man who has come closest to being executed since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981, Wilford Berry Jr., 35, was postponed Friday by a federal judge pending another hearing to determine Berry's competency level. Berry was convicted of killing his boss, Cleveland baker Charles J. Mitroff Jr., in 1989. Berry volunteered to die and waived his right to any further appeals.

"Both my husband and I strongly feel that once they start doing it, people will think twice," Mrs. Klima said of how executing death row prisoners like Berry might deter others from committing violent acts.

A new death penalty case

On Tuesday, another capital murder case will begin in Portage County, when Douglas Jenkins, 20, of 315 Franklin St. Apt. 2, Ravenna, goes on trial for the Dec. 1 beating death of Carole J. Howd, 51, who was found slain in bed at her home at 8965 Corbett Road in Palmyra.

Jenkins and his brother, Michael, 23, were charged with aggravated murder; attempted aggravated murder in connection with injuries to Howd's housemate, Guy Lantz _ plus aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence.

The Jenkins brothers were charged with death penalty specifications because their alleged crimes met specific criteria outlined in Ohio law, Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said before a gag order concerning public comment about the cases went into effect.

The trial begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Judge Joseph Kainrad's courtroom on the third floor of the Portage County Courthouse.

Looking back

Retired Portage County Judge George Martin heard three death-penalty cases during his career on the common pleas bench from 1978 to 1996 and recalls them as some of the most trying and difficult cases put before him as a judge.

"They're awfully hard to work on because there's so many motions and hearings and preparations that go into them," he said. "If you have to impose the death penalty, that's certainly a hard thing to do."

Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci agreed, describing the court filings in capital murder cases that frequently include upwards of 40 pretrial motions, many of which concern the constitutionality of the death penalty and the particulars of jury selection.

Strict constitutional guidelines prompt attorneys involved in death penalty cases to be "meticulous in protecting the record," he said.

On top of the legal paperwork and motion hearings involved in the cases, Vigluicci and Martin agreed the emotional toll the cases take on those involved is great.

"In all cases, one of the prosecutor's jobs is to decide what people will be charged with and what cases the courts will hear," Vigluicci said. "The death penalty decision is a difficult type of animal. You could say it's the jury's decision or the judge's decision, but it's really our decision here at the beginning."

Martin recalled coming home exhausted after a day at the courthouse during a death penalty case, many of which last up to a month.

"You're just beat," he said. "I would come home just absolutely beat. There's a lot of stress and the lawyers are under a lot of stress. It's a really tough job. Even picking a jury takes so long."

As a judge, Martin heard many different kinds of criminal and civil cases, but he said he always felt as if he wielded a great amount of power when he presided over cases involving the death penalty.

"You have to wonder... Here I am. I got more votes than the guy I ran against, and here I am sitting as God. You feel so insignificant. You really do get emotionally involved. I couldn't do another one."

Becoming a martyr

The United States has become a focal point worldwide concerning the death penalty issue. The debate surrounding the highly publicized February execution of Karla Faye Tucker in Texas brought front-page headlines, TV news magazine features and even letters from celebrities and dignitaries regarding why the death penalty should not be invoked.

Pope John Paul II has written letters on behalf of Tucker and Berry seeking terms of life in prison rather than death for both.

The Klimas said the problem with the publicity surrounding death penalty cases is that the convicts sometimes are viewed as victims.

"They shouldn't be thought of as martyrs," Mrs. Klima said. "Those people that these people murdered _ where do they stand?"

She said the years between the sentencing phase of the trial and the conclusion of the appeals process is difficult for families of victims.

"Obviously it was a step in the right direction that he was committed to

death," Mrs. Klima said of Wiles. "It's a joke to all of us now. We

think they should go through with the death penalty."

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