Monday, March 2, 1998
So murderer wants death?
Make him live

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Wilford Lee Berry
As much as I believe in the death penalty, I hope ''The Volunteer'' doesn't get his wish.

Wilford Lee Berry is ''The Volunteer.''

He wants to die by lethal injection. The state of Ohio wants to oblige him. Until the courts intervened Friday, his execution was set for Tuesday.

I prefer that it never happens. Not that I think Berry is innocent. I actually think the state should make it harder on him.

Berry is a cold-blooded killer. He was convicted of murdering his boss in 1989 and sentenced to die.

After he was found guilty, lawyers went to work to save his life. Berry eventually grew tired of the lengthy appeals process. The atmosphere on death row was not to his liking. No doubt it is rather grim.

He also found the prospect of facing life in prison to be unbearable. So, in 1995, he fired his lawyers and volunteered to be executed. As the date of his execution grew closer and efforts to save his life increased, Berry became front-page news. Stories covered his will to die and the debate over his mental health. Reports documented how his fellow death-row inmates beat him up because of his death wish. There's also the historical angle. If he's executed, he will be the first prisoner put to death in Ohio since 1963.

For the defense

A world of excuses has been made for Wilford Lee Berry. Lawyers fighting for his life say he's mentally ill. Three suicide attempts and hallucinations are in his past. They say he was abused as a child.

I've had trouble working up any sympathy for this man. Two court-appointed psychiatrists have found him to be competent.

If his lawyers are peddling the bad childhood defense, I'm not buying. Adults with rotten childhoods have grown up to be famous authors and world leaders. Being abused as a child is no guarantee you'll grow up to be a murderer. And it's no justification if you do. Wilford Lee Berry is making no excuses. ''I am guilty of killing,'' he wrote in a letter to Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery. He's not sorry. ''I have no remorse for killing him.'' Given the opportunity, he said, he would kill again.

Once was more than enough. And this is how he did it.

Berry and a partner decided to pull a stick-up. They chose the bakery where Berry had a part-time job. He had been hired three days earlier by the baker, Charles Mitroff Jr.

During the robbery, Berry's partner shot the baker in the chest with an AK-47 assault rifle.

The baker was still alive.

As he pleaded for his life, the baker looked at the robbers. Berry stepped up and shot the baker in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. Charles Mitroff Jr. was dead.

Life sentence

My initial reaction to this case was, Wilford Lee Berry must die. Execute him ASAP. But don't stick a needle in his arm.

Put him in a room with the baker's loved ones. Give each relative a baseball bat. Close the door. When the noise stops, open the door again.

Upon further reflection, I realized that would be wrong. Not for Berry, but for the baker's family. The loved ones of Charles Mitroff Jr. have already had one too many contacts with this person. No one needs to be, or should be, placed in a room with this low form of life.

That doesn't mean you should give him what he wants. In this case, that amounts to coddling a criminal. And that's something I'm against.

No, the best sentence is to keep Berry alive. Let him live out his days in a one-man cell. Here's why:

Two years ago, one of his lawyers said Wilford Lee Berry asked to be executed because the killer ''wants to stop the voices in his head.''

So, he hears voices, does he? That's too bad.

One of those voices probably belongs to that baker he gunned down.

My hope is that Wilford Lee Berry hears Charles Mitroff Jr. pleading for his life night and day. May it torment him until he comes to the natural end of his miserable existence.

Previous reports

State prepares to impose death Feb. 25, 1998
Prosecution could hinge on injuries, instructions Feb. 26, 1998
Lawyers: Berry not competent Feb. 27, 1998
Berry's execution delayed Feb. 28, 1998
Berry alters death row Feb. 28, 1998
Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.