Monday, August 13, 2001

Byrd letters reveal boasts, threats

Supporters trying to save condemned man

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        John Byrd Jr. likes “to see people dead.” He “gets high off of it.”

        Those are not just words about the death-row inmate scheduled to die Sept. 12 for the 1983 stabbing death of a Colerain convenience store clerk. They're his words.

        In an unusual move Sunday designed to counter Mr. Byrd's latest claim of innocence as he nears death by injection, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen revealed a dozen letters in which the former Northside man threatens to kill or harm people.

        The letters and official documents were discovered last week in files at the Ohio Department of Corrections, Mr. Allen said.

        Today, Mr. Byrd's attorneys will argue before the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that a Hamilton County Common Pleas judge erred in rejecting their claim of “actual innocence” in Monte Tewks bury's murder.

        Mr. Byrd's co-defendant, John Brewer, now claims to be the killer, having for years claimed his own innocence. Mr. Brewer's statements will be the key issue at an Aug. 20 clemency hearing in Columbus.

        In a Dec. 28, 1987 letter, Mr. Byrd wrote a Toledo woman whose brother on death row was an alleged target of extortion by Mr. Byrd: “Now I hope you are smarter than your brother, and that you do as you are told. Cause personally I like to see people dead. I get high off of it!”

        On Aug. 10, 1991, an incident report by death-row corrections officer Rita Halcomb quoted Mr. Byrd as saying: “If I don't get some dope, I'm going to put someone in their grave. I want that black (expletive) in the cell next to me moved before I kill her! You think I'm kidding, but I'm not, I'm going to put someone in their grave.”

        None of the letters say he killed Mr. Tewksbury.

        However, on Sunday his widow, Sharon Tewksbury, trembled as she spoke about the lone letter she received

        from Mr. Byrd, in 1986, which she immediately gave to police.

        “I know a lot of people who would like to date your little girl ... if you can understand what I'm saying,” Mr. Byrd wrote. “I can make your world a living hell ... I pray that someday someone you love comes to this camp. This is my world lady ... the jail in Cincinnati ain't safe for anyone in your family as of now. Everything goes to jail sometime.”

        It ends, “When you go to bed at night, tell Monte I said good night! Ha Ha Ha. Mother (expletive) you (expletive)! — Dog”

        Another threatening letter by him, to a fellow inmate, is signed “Byrd Dog.”

        After receiving the letter, Mrs. Tewksbury began driving her then school-age son Matthew to the bus stop two blocks from their home, then waiting with him until the bus arrived.

        The letters are in varying handwriting. Several are signed with a swastika symbol.

        On Sunday, Mrs. Tewksbury said: “I wish to God I wasn't here today, because it would mean my husband would be alive. Coming in this morning, I thought about what it was like to be in that store that night. I know he was terri fied.”

        She recalled her husband as dedicated to his wife and kids and his job.

        Corrections officials subsequently vowed to intercept any further letters to Mrs. Tewksbury, who was joined Sunday by her daughter, Kim, son Matthew and his wife, Alisa.

        Mr. Allen presented these and other letters as “the real John Byrd.” Mr. Byrd's public defenders in Columbus could not be reached for comment Sunday.

        At a rally Thursday on Fountain Square, Mr. Byrd's sister, Kim Hamer of Cincinnati, urged people to write the governor in support of Mr. Byrd's attempts for executive clemency.

        However, many of the non-relatives who spoke, including Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and an Oklahoma City man whose daughter was killed in the Timothy McVeigh bombing there, denounced the death penalty in general without addressing Mr. Byrd's case.

        Mr. Allen said he too encourages public response to Mr. Byrd's fate. Mr. Byrd was recently added to the parole watch list on the prosecutor's Internet site, Enquirer reporter Marie McCain contributed.


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