Thursday, April 26, 2001

Execution set for May 15; killer's lawyers plan appeal

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday set a May 15 execution date for a killer who came within one hour of being put to death last week.

        The court had delayed Jay D. Scott's execution April 17 to give a Cleveland appeals court more time to consider whether he was competent to be executed. His attorneys say he suffers from schizophrenia.

        Wednesday's ruling to proceed with the punishment was 5-2. Justice Paul Pfeifer dissented, and Justice Deborah Cook said she would order an immediate execution.

        “Isn't this immediate enough for her?” said Timothy Sweeney, one of Mr. Scott's lawyers.

        There were no written opinions accompanying the decision.

        When the court delayed the execution last week, Justice Pfeifer said it was important to consider whether Ohio law violates the U.S. Constitution by forcing an inmate to prove he is insane.

        The court's ruling Wednesday follows an 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals ruling in Cleveland that Mr. Scott, convicted of killing a delicatessen owner in 1983, was competent.

        Mr. Sweeney said Wednesday he now will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the merits of Mr. Scott's appeal, which hinges on a finding that he suffers from schizophrenia.

        That legal avenue remains open, said court spokeswoman Regina Koehler. Court guidelines allow 45 days to appeal a ruling.

        Mr. Scott was sentenced to die for the murder of Vinnie Prince, 74, during a robbery of her Cleveland delicatessen.

        The state has executed only one prisoner since 1963. Wilford Berry was put to death in 1999 after he gave up his appeals.

        The state Attorney General's Office has argued that Mr. Scott's case has been through the courts and that he fits the definition of competence under Ohio law.

        “There is no question of guilt in this case, and at this point in time there is nothing in the way to stop the execution from going forth,” Joe Case, a spokesman for Attorney General Betty Montgomery, said Wednesday.

        Mr. Scott's lawyers had appealed to the 8th District court after Judge David Matia of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court refused to order a full competency hearing.

        In Friday's appeals court ruling, Judge Patricia Ann Blackmon said the court disagreed with Mr. Scott's argument that he should be spared because he lacks the capacity to face the finality of death, even though he realizes he is to be executed.

        Appeals Court Judge Timothy McMonagle disagreed, questioning whether the execution of a person diagnosed with schizophrenia violates the Ohio and U.S. constitutions' bans on cruel and unusual punishment.

        Mr. Scott has fought his death sentence all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear his case. Gov. Bob Taft denied clemency and then a request for a seven-day reprieve.


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