Saturday, February 03, 2001

Accomplice disputes killer's death-row appeal

Getaway driver's testimony points back at Byrd

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Convicted killer John W. Byrd Jr.'s final attempt to stop his own execution has turned into a case of disagreeing henchmen.

        On Mr. Byrd's side is accomplice John Brewer, who says he is the man who stabbed Monte Tewksbury during a 1983 convenience store robbery in Colerain Township.

        Mr. Brewer's surprise confession is at the center of an unprecedented appeal that seeks to stop Mr. Byrd's execution from taking place as soon as three months from now.

        On Friday, the Ohio Attorney General and the Hamilton County prosecutor's office produced the third accomplice to the crime — getaway driver William Danny Woodall. In statements the state filed before the Ohio Supreme Court, Mr. Woodall says Mr. Brewer is lying.

        Interviewed at Ohio's London Correctional Center on Monday and in an Ohio State University hospital room on Wednesday, Mr. Woodall's story is contained in two affidavits from assistant prosecutor Mark Piepmeier and Ohio State Highway Patrol Lieutenant Howard Hudson. The state hopes to use Mr. Woodall's statements to encourage the high court to carry out the death sentence.

        “Mr. Woodall said that Johnny Brewer never told him that he had killed Monte Tewksbury,” Mr. Hudson wrote. “Mr. Woodall stated that when John Byrd Jr. and Johnny Brewer returned to the van after coming out of the King Kwik (convenience store) that John Byrd Jr. had the knife.”

        That disputes two accounts of the crime Mr. Brewer has given to the state public defender's office. In one statement, Mr. Brewer claims he stabbed Mr. Tewksbury after a scuffle behind the counter.

        “When I got back in the van I said to Danny Woodall, "Man, I stabbed a guy. Take off,'” Mr. Brewer wrote.

        While Mr. Brewer signed an affidavit confessing to the crime this year, the public defender revealed he gave a similar sworn confession in 1989 that had never been used until now.

        Mr. Woodall said in 1989 that Mr. Brewer persuaded him to make false statements backing the confession. Copies of Mr. Woodall's 1989 affidavits have never appeared in court.

        “He signed these at the request of inmate Johnny Brewer to help inmate John Byrd Jr.,” Mr. Hudson wrote. “Recently he has been asked on numerous occasions to meet with the Ohio public defenders representing John Byrd Jr., but he has refused to do so.”

        That led Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen to accuse the public defender's office of witholding evidence.

        “Do they in fact have in their file an affadivit from Mr. Woodall?” Mr. Allen asked. “If they do, why have they not brought it forward?”

        David Bodiker, the state public defender, declined to comment on the state's filing, saying he hadn't seen it.

        “I don't think we want to comment on what we have and what we don't have,” Mr. Bodiker said.

        About Mr. Woodall, Mr. Bodiker said: “Our understanding is that he's dying and that he may die any day. The last we heard, his caseworker said he was really in no position to talk to anybody.”

        Indeed, in his affidavits, Mr. Woodall told the state he was dying from lung cancer. In the statement taken at OSU's hospital, Mr. Woodall informed Mr. Piepmeier that “his condition had worsened and he realized he did not have long to live.”

        Mr. Allen said Mr. Woodall's recanted statement should help persuade the Ohio Supreme Court to go ahead with Mr. Byrd's execution.

        “It's a sham,” Mr. Allen said of the defender's appeal. “There is no credible evidence whatsoever to uphold (Mr. Byrd's) actual innocence claim.”

        Attorney General Betty Montgomery agrees, according to spokesman Joe Case.

        “Given the response we filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, Attorney General Montgomery feels the content of the public defenders motion is patently false on its face and obviously amounts to nothing more than a delay tactic,” Mr. Case said.

        With all of his guaranteed appeals exhausted, Mr. Byrd's unusual claim of “actual innocence” is all that stands between him and an execution this year. The legal argument states that Mr. Byrd cannot be executed because he is not the man who stabbed Mr. Tewksbury.

        Because this argument has never been tried at this stage in a death penalty case, no one can predict how the Ohio Supreme Court will respond.

        “It's a case of first impression,” Mr. Allen said.


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