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July 18, 2018

Ohio completes its first execution since botched execution of another inmate late last year

As reported in this local article, Ohio managed to get its machinery of death functioning again this morning. Here are the details and context:

Robert Van Hook horrifically murdered a Cincinnati man, but he seemed remorseful as he died by lethal injection on Wednesday at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

Van Hook, 58, was strapped to the gurney in Ohio’s death house and the lines carrying the deadly drugs had been inserted in his arms when he turned his head to three witnesses from the family of his victim, David Self....

Van Hook served a violence-plagued 32 years in prison after a death-penalty conviction for what now could be considered a hate crime — of the utmost violence.

On Feb. 18, 1985, Van Hook met Self in a gay bar in downtown Cincinnati and went home with him. Van Hook’s clemency report says he lured Self into a vulnerable position and strangled him into unconsciousness. “He then took a paring knife from the kitchen and stabbed the victim behind the right ear, aiming the thrust upward toward the brain, accompanied by a blade-twisting movement,” the report said....

During his incarceration Van Hook amassed a disciplinary record of more than two dozen incidents, including stabbing another inmate in the face and chest, threatening to kill corrections officers and damaging property.

Joe D’Ambrosio served 22 years on death row with Van Hook until D’Ambrosio was exonerated and released in 2010. “He had mental problems, I don’t care what anyone says,” said D’Ambrosio who was at the prison Wednesday to protest Van Hook’s execution. “He would go for long periods of time and then he would explode.”

In their unsuccessful bid for clemency, Van Hook’s attorneys cited his difficult childhood. His mother, who had a history of mental illness, abused alcohol and drugs and became enmeshed in repeated, mutually abusive relationships. His father also drank heavily, beat Van Hook and was a virulent homophobe, the lawyers wrote.

Van Hook’s father, a musician, introduced his son to alcohol and drugs when Van hook was 11 or 12, his lawyers said. At 14, Van Hook moved with his father to Florida and eventually ran away. He lived on the streets, sometimes supporting himself by having sex for money with men....

D’Ambrosio said there was no point in killing Van Hook. “It was unneeded, unnecessary, cruel, unusual,” he said. “It’s barbaric.”

But three members of Self’s family, who sat quietly holding hands through the execution, wanted Van Hook to die. They declined comment on Wednesday. But Self’s sister, Janet Self, told the parole board that her brother’s murder reduced him in the public mind to nothing more than a gay man in a bar, when in reality he was an intelligent, witty person. She also noted that Self was abused by his own father and had to face prejudice because he was gay.

Van Hook’s execution was the first in Ohio in 2018. The last attempted execution — of Alva Campbell in November — was called off when corrections workers could not find a suitable vein for intravenous drugs. He died earlier this year of natural causes.

Gary Otte and Ronald Phillips were executed last year. They were the first to be killed in Ohio’s death chamber after a three-year moratorium following the 2014 execution of Dennis McGuire, 53, who gasped, choked, clenched his fists and appeared to struggle against his restraints for about 10 minutes before being pronounced dead.

Van Hook was the 56th man to be executed in Ohio since 1999. Two more executions are scheduled for later this year. A total of 137 people remain under death sentences in Ohio.

July 18, 2018 at 06:08 PM | Permalink


You lawyers kept this person alive after age 14. You are 100% responsible for every single one of his thousands of violent crimes after that time. The families of his victims would be fully justified in getting accountability from the lawyers in the legislature and on the bench that protected, privileged, and empowered this super-predator. Call him evil if you wish. That he gave notice of his character, likely after age 3, makes the lawyers 1000 times more culpable. His crimes had the foreseeability of planetary orbits.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 18, 2018 10:22:01 PM

As written I would have to say this sounds like it was a rather tame murder. It would seem he actually did what he could to make it quick.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 19, 2018 3:15:47 AM

Fascinating about his old cellie. I admire all of the exonorees who have continued their fight for justice after they obtained it in their own cases.

Posted by: John | Jul 19, 2018 4:07:33 AM

Soronel Haetir makes a good point. Death supposed to be for "the worst of the worst." This was bad (as is every murder), but hardly the worst of the worst.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | Jul 19, 2018 1:08:09 PM

The victim is totally sympathetic in this case. But one should pay very close attention to the facts. Mr.Self was already dead when Van Hook abused his corpse by cutting him open etc. Abuse of a corpse doesnt make the cause of death more henious because it occurs post mortum

Posted by: ? | Jul 19, 2018 10:19:28 PM

Good riddance. Should have happened years ago. And what's with the "homosexual panic" defense? Guy goes to gay bar and picks someone up--then claims panic---judge never should have allowed the defense in the first place.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 22, 2018 7:48:14 AM

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