Wednesday, March 07, 2001

Hours tick off for execution, urgency high


Family, friends rally to thwart death of Byrd

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        John W. Byrd Jr.'s family and friends gathered Tuesday for another rally to free the death-row inmate.

        As they have several times in recent months, Mr. Byrd's supporters sang, chanted and carried signs urging lawmakers to “Stop Executions Now!”

Byrd
Byrd
        But this time, with the former Northside man's execution looming, the protest took on a greater sense of urgency.

        “Frankly,” said Sister Alice Gerdeman, “people are feeling a little desperate.”

        Sister Gerdeman, one of the rally organizers, joined about 40 other protesters Tuesday outside the Hamilton County Courthouse. Speakers at the rally demanded freedom for Mr. Byrd and claimed that a corrupt legal system framed him for a murder he did not commit.

        Mr. Byrd was convicted of stabbing to death Monte Tewksbury in 1983 during a convenience store robbery in Colerain Township. Mr. Byrd was 19 at the time.

        He is line to become the second man executed against his will in Ohio since the death penalty was reinstated in 1981. The execution of Jay Scott, convicted of killing a Cleveland delicatessen owner in 1983, is scheduled for April 17. Wilford Berry was executed in 1999, but he had dropped all appeals.

        The case took a dramatic turn last month when public defenders revealed that one of Mr. Byrd's accomplices, John Brewer, now claims he is the one who stabbed Mr. Tewksbury.

[photo] The mother of convicted murderer John W. Byrd Jr., Mary Ray (left) was at the Hamilton County Courthouse Tuesday demonstrating for a stay of execution.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        Prosecutors say the evidence — along with a third accomplice — supports their contention that Mr. Byrd was the killer.

        The dispute now is before the Ohio Supreme Court, which must decide whether to hear a new appeal or set an execution date.

        Either way, Mr. Byrd's supporters acknowledge he is running out of options. Before the latest appeal request, Mr. Byrd had exhausted all of his automatic state and federal appeals.

        At the rally Tuesday, his sister, Kim Hamer, proclaimed her brother's innocence. She said she saw her brother the night of Mr. Tewksbury's murder, and she is certain he was in no condition to hurt anyone but himself. “He was wasted. He could hardly walk,” Ms. Hamer said. “There's no way Johnny could have done anything. He was out of it.”

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said evidence against Mr. Byrd is overwhelming. He said testimony at the time of the slaying consistently pointed to Mr. Byrd as the killer.

        With every court so far affirming Mr. Byrd's conviction, Mr. Allen said the focus now should be on justice for Mr. Tewksbury.

        “There's little or no public sympathy for the likes of Johnny Byrd,” Mr. Allen said.

       



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