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June 16, 2012

Condemned Ohio murderer prevails on Ford claim on eve of execution date

As reported in this local article, an Ohio state trial judge "ordered a halt Friday to the scheduled execution of death row inmate Abdul Awkal, ruling that the convicted killer lacked the mental capacity to understand the connection between his crime and his punishment." Here are the details:

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman read his 13-page ruling from the bench in a morning proceeding that ended a weeklong competency hearing featuring testimony from psychiatric doctors about Awkal’s mental illness.

“The court is forced to conclude that, as a result of severe and persistent mental disease, Abdul Awkal presently lacks the capacity to form a rational understanding as to the reason the state intends to execute him on June 20,” he stated. “Abdul Awkal may not be executed unless and until he has been restored to competency,” he added.

Kevin Cafferkey, one of Awkal’s lawyers, said after the hearing that he intended to file for a stay of execution with the Ohio Supreme Court and for a reprieve from Gov. John Kasich. Awkal is scheduled for execution on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Prosecutor Bill Mason said he disagreed with Friedman and would appeal the ruling. “Awkal changed his story on the eve of execution and blamed the CIA for executing him, after admitting that he had lied to psychiatrists and has now successfully manipulated the court," Mason said in a written statement.

Mason said the Awkal case has been reviewed and approved for nearly 20 years by appeals and federal courts. “Unfortunately, Judge Friedman's decision will likely cause even more delay in this case and prolong the suffering of the victims' family. Delays like this are what is wrong with the death penalty," Mason concluded.

In 1992, Awkal shot and killed his estranged wife and her brother, Latife and Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz, inside the Old Lakeside Courthouse during a divorce and child-custody dispute. Friedman was the judge who sentenced him to death.

Kasich had granted Awkal a two-week reprieve from his original June 6 execution date after defense lawyers made a last-ditch claim that the 53-year-old Lebanese immigrant is mentally ill and does not understand his punishment.

In reaching his decision, Friedman acknowledged the difficulty of determining Awkal's sanity and mental capacity to understand the consequences of his actions....

All five doctors who examined Awkal determined he was severely mentally ill, suffering from schizophrenia. But they also said they believe he can be restored to mental competency through the use of anti-psychotic drugs. The doctors disagreed, however, in their diagnoses of Awkal's mental capacity to understand the connection between his crime and his upcoming execution....

David Singleton, executive director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, and one of Akwal’s lawyers, said he hoped Friedman's ruling would end the state's attempts to execute his client. “Given Mr. Awkal’s mental incompetence, we are confident that the court’s ruling will be the final word in this matter,” Singleton said.

I doubt many (any?) death row defendants have prevailed on this kind of claim (known as a Ford claim based on the 1986 SCOTUS ruling prohibiting the execution of anyone too mentally ill to understand their punishment) to halt an execution only days before it was scheduled to take place.

June 16, 2012 at 11:53 PM | Permalink


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Welcome to the Twilight Zone of the lawyer. The lawyer has been mentally crippled by law school and appears incapable of understanding the most elementary of concepts.

1) The death penalty is not a punishment. Punishment is a consequence likely to reduce a behavior, like a slap on the wrist for touching a stove. The death penalty is eradication, the final incapacitation. It eliminates all behavior, not just the undesirable behavior. The slap on the wrist requires understanding a connection between the pain and the prior touching of the stove. No understanding is needed to be gone.

2) If safety is a goal of the criminal law, the mentally ill n=murderer is far more dangerous than the contract killer. The latter controls himself, and does not kill unless paid to. Paranoid schizophrenics murder 2000 people a year, most for no apparent reason. In about half the rest of the murders, the victim is legally drunk, and the murderer is legally drunk. yet intoxication is not allowed as an excuse. Often, there is no memory of the act, and the drunk murderer appears more impaired than the mentally ill one. The lawyer excuses the most dangerous of all murderers. He goe s after the least dangerous the most vigorously, after the second most dangerous without granting any excuse, and immunized the most dangerous of all. It is the lawyers on the Supreme Court who are the most insane party in this matter.

3) Then the lawyer grants the prisoner the wright ot refuse medication. The most dangerous of the murderers is immunized from forced treatment. No liquor is allowed for the second most dangerous murderer in prison. And the least dangerous, the murderer for hire, is executed the most quickly.

Welcome to the lawyer Twilight Zone, a waking nightmare for everyone else, especially for prison personnel.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 17, 2012 10:33:05 AM

What a joke. Kasich is such a coward. He cheated the victims' families and justice by staying this execution. Then the criminal got a favorable judge. Once a convict is shown to have lied with respect to mental competency. That should be the end of the matter.

What a travesty.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 17, 2012 11:18:08 AM

federalist, you disappoint me. I thought for sure your first comment would be that Judge Friedman is a wuss and a hack.

Posted by: onlooker | Jun 17, 2012 11:48:00 AM

Friedman violated his oath, and for what, a murderer. Nice guy, that judge. There, you happy?

You know what is funny though, there's strong evidence here of malingering, which, of course, is fraud on the court. None of the abolitionists ever seem to have a problem with that. Nice how that works.

Kasich doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to be a Republican.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 17, 2012 12:02:43 PM

I have to admit Akwal's attorneys worked the system. They had an entire year to plan this since Ohio is so backed up on their one a month schedule.

When SCOTUS remanded Ford back to the US District court here in Ft Lauderdale, the judge found Ford sane enough to be executed. Ford died in prison when the case was up on appeal at the 11th. It would have been interesting to see how the case played out.

Posted by: DaveP | Jun 17, 2012 12:53:59 PM

"I have to admit Akwal's attorneys worked the system. They had an entire year to plan this since Ohio is so backed up on their one a month schedule."

And the abolitionists laugh. Anything to support the cause. The state should investigate the heck out of this--if there was lawyer collusion with this malingering, then tickets need to be yanked. Actually, prison time needs to be imposed.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 17, 2012 1:32:14 PM

I wonder if Akwal's attorneys were planning a last minute federal appeal if Kasich turned them down?

Posted by: DaveP | Jun 17, 2012 5:03:13 PM

Federalist and DaveP I agree with you both. It is absolutely outrageous that an attorney would defend his client with extraordinary zeal and vigor---and to what end? Just save his client's life. Truly unforgivable. The lawyer should be disbarred.

Posted by: onlooker | Jun 18, 2012 1:01:18 AM


I have no issue at all with an attorney representing his client to the best of his ability. Just as I do to my clients. However you have to admit, Akwal's attorneys had plenty of time to ask for a Ford hearing and waited until a few days before the execution when they had a whole year to do it. Were they implying that Akwal deteriorated during the last week that required a hearing to determine whether he could understand his punishment?

Posted by: DaveP | Jun 18, 2012 7:38:50 AM

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