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August 5, 2013

Condemned Ohio inmate takes care of his own execution a few days early

It is likely unfair to criticize (or praise) Ohio corrections officials for the news reported in this local article, headlined "Inmate hangs self in his cell."  Still, as the report highlights, the timing of this notable prison suicide is conspicuous:

Why convicted Cleveland killer Billy Slagle hanged himself early yesterday isn't known, but he apparently knew he had little time to act. Slagle, 44, was found in his Death Row cell at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution about 5 a.m., only hours before he was scheduled to go on a round-the-clock watch before his scheduled execution on Wednesday.

He was pronounced dead about an hour after he was found. No other details were released by state prison officials. “We will be conducting a complete investigation,” said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Slagle was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville for the 1987 murder of 40-year-old Mari Anne Pope. Slagle stabbed Pope, a neighbor, 17 times with scissors while she was baby-sitting two young children.

Under state prison protocol, inmates facing the death penalty are placed on around-the-clock watch 72 hours before their scheduled execution — 10 a.m. yesterday for Slagle. Before they are moved to Lucasville, Death Row inmates are required to be observed on regular rounds by corrections officers, with staggered visits not to exceed 30 minutes, Smith said....

Slagle’s defense team was shocked and had no clue he might commit suicide, said one of his attorneys, Vicki Werneke. “We were still litigating in court and had hoped that the execution would have been stopped. There was oral argument scheduled for Monday afternoon,” she told the Associated Press in an email.

Although Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty sought clemency for Slagle — arguing that, under current law, he would have been given life without parole and not the death penalty — the courts, Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich disagreed.

Kasich declined clemency, which was Slagle’s best hope to avoid execution. McGinty and Slagle’s attorneys had cited his age — at 18, he was barely old enough for execution in Ohio — and his history of alcohol and drug addiction.

It was the first time a killer about to be executed had killed himself since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Another inmate, Lawrence Reynolds Jr., 43, of Akron, hoarded and took an overdose of anti-depressant pills that delayed his execution in 2010. He survived and was executed nine days later.

As a fan of personal liberty and autonomy, I tend to favor permitting those prisoners condemned to be executed or to die in prison the opportunity, if clearly competent, the means to commit suicide.  But I have no basis for concluding the prisoner here was making a truly informed and competent decision, nor do I fully understand how he had the ready means to hang himself just before going on a pre-execution suicide watch.  That all said, and to be especially crass and consequentialist, I suppose as an Ohio taxpayer I ought to a bit be grateful for all the tax-funded time and energy of state employees now saved by there no longer being a contested scheduled Ohio execution this week.

August 5, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Permalink

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-- "Although Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty sought clemency for Slagle — arguing that, under current law, he would have been given life without parole and not the death penalty — the courts, Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich disagreed." --

Pof. Berman:
Which controlling legal authority or precedent motivated a Prosecutor (McGinty) to seek clemency?

-- "McGinty and Slagle’s attorneys had cited his age — at 18, he was barely old enough for execution in Ohio — and his history of alcohol and drug addiction." --

Is it not professionally dubious to join forces with the defence in order to remove a murderer's penalty by means of a technicality, and an erroneous one at that?

[Unless '18 is the new 17', as LWOP is the new cruel & unusual punishment.]

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 5, 2013 10:45:14 AM

Practicably, this shows that a person could commit suicide, but I'm not really supportive of having the state have the responsibility of officially helping him to commit suicide, especially given a 44 year-old is not clearly in such a helpless position that the alternative is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I still wonder about line drawing. If someone is sentenced to prison for years, let's say a Bernie Madoff, and functionally will either die there or be released with but a little time, should they too have the right to kill themselves with the state's help? I consider this when people note LWOP is worse than the death penalty. Does this mean those in prison in effect for life for non-capital crimes have it harder? Do they too have a right to die here?

Posted by: Joe | Aug 5, 2013 11:24:06 AM

Adamakis,

You ask, "Is it not professionally dubious to join forces with the defence in order to remove a murderer's penalty by means of a technicality, and an erroneous one at that?'

I'm not sure about the "technicality." But I do know that the prosecutor's obligation is to seek justice, justice for the guilty and innocent alike. I commend this prosecutor for acting in the highest tradition of that principle.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 5, 2013 12:01:15 PM

Mr. Levine, I agree with you.

Posted by: current prosecutor | Aug 5, 2013 1:32:40 PM

Prof Berman,

You are a consequentialist,libertarian asshole.

Ayn

Posted by: Aynon | Aug 5, 2013 4:27:21 PM

Doug --

Let me suggest that our next debate at OSU be about which of us is the bigger asshole, a word that seems to be enjoying new currency on your site, http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2013/08/senators-durbin-and-lee-come-together-to-introduce-smarter-sentencing-act-.html#comments

Until then, I will have to be proud, in this context at least, to be pinned with the same label. But I don't know that I can claim to be a consequentialist. I'll have to go look that one up first.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 5, 2013 5:02:26 PM

Well, he saved the state some bucks and saved a lot of trees (those last minute appeals use a lot of paper).

Posted by: federalist | Aug 5, 2013 9:02:22 PM

Levine: "the prosecutor's obligation is to seek justice"

Agreed, yet "his age .. and his history of alcohol and drug addiction" are not just grounds to
overturn the penalty of the jury, the courts, the Ohio Parole Board and the Governor!

"To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity…
He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are
abomination to the Lord." {Prov 1:3 & 17:15 see also Num 35:31 & Acts 25:11}

Thus, unless McGinty would produce substantive information sufficient to nullify the results
of the system of
justice, ostensibly his advocacy is hardly justice, but is rather a very
tenuous use of the office of Prosecutor, as I opine. Someone convince me otherwise.

Posted by: Adamakis | Aug 6, 2013 11:11:00 AM

Adamkis, greetings. The prosecutor argued that "under current law, [Slagle] would have been given life without parole and not the death penalty." If that is the case (and I don't know that it is), I stand by my view, that the prosecutor should be congratulated for seeking justice.

Posted by: Michael Levine | Aug 6, 2013 2:29:18 PM

Adamakis, citing the Bible as a source might even upset Federalist.

In any event, as the Bard noted long ago, "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose."

Posted by: Bible Scholar | Aug 6, 2013 4:38:11 PM

Bill: Consequentialism is Harvard speak for, the ends justify the means.

I have argued many times that suicide should be promoted among repeat violent offenders and people on LWOP. Restaurant meals, hookers, illegal drugs, individual requests. If the prisoners takes these and reneges at the last minute, he should have given legal consent to be shot in the head in his cell.

Prisoners should also be allowed to donate their organs if screened and acceptable to the organ bank. After swallowing medications that stop breathing, the body should be supported by artificial respiration until transported to the OR for organ harvest. One prisoner can redeem himself by saving the lives of a half dozen people. Over 50,000 people die waiting for a transplant.

This common sense approach is way beyond the understanding the lawyer dumbass. Direct action groups of families of organ transplant patients should be lashing and kneecapping anti-transplant legislators, judges, and other lawyer elites to straighten them out.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 7, 2013 3:17:03 AM

Aynon: I invite you to attend a lawyer event where Prof. Berman is speaking. Not an asshole, however much one may disagree with him.

I suggest you apologize for your use of a bad word in the comments. You will feel better about yourself.

As a reader, I view personal cursing as the rhetorical equivalent of knocking over your King in a hopeless position in a chess match. You should not surrender so easily.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 7, 2013 3:23:08 AM

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