Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Byrd appeals death sentence

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Convicted killer John W. Byrd Jr., scheduled for execution next month, deserves to prove that he shouldn't be on death row, his attorney told the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals on Monday.

        But prosecutors retorted that an accomplice's confession in the 1983 Colerain Township slaying conflicts with statements made during Mr. Byrd's trial and that the accomplice changed his story in the hopes of saving Mr. Byrd from execution.

        Mr. Byrd, 38, formerly of Northside, has lived on death row for 18 years. He is scheduled to die Sept. 12.

        He was convicted of the stabbing death of Monte Tewksbury, a clerk inside a Pippin Road convenience store that Mr. Byrd robbed along with two accomplices, John Brewer and William Danny Woodall.

        Mr. Brewer now says he — not Mr. Byrd — killed Mr. Tewksbury.

        Mr. Byrd's attorneys hope the appeals court will overrule a May decision by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Steven E. Martin that rejected sworn statements from Mr. Brewer, saying they are unbelievable.

        “We have not received fair consideration or due process from the trial court,” Jane Perry, an assistant public defender and one of Mr. Byrd's four attorneys, argued in

        court Monday.

        ""The only evidence from the state (about Mr. Byrd's guilt) is the testimony of a jail house snitch,” she said. “... The Brewer affidavit is very credible.”

        The confession from Mr. Brewer was submitted by Mr. Byrd's attorneys to the Ohio Supreme Court in January. The court then ordered Judge Martin to hold a hearing to consider the new claims.

        Judge Martin, however, contended that Mr. Brewer's words don't count as new evidence because the public defender's office took his first statement in 1989. Judge Martin said the public defender should have asked for a new trial then, not now.

        Prosecutors agree.

        The public defender's office never fully explained why it didn't use the statement years ago. Mr. Byrd's defense attorneys have called it a bad tactical decision.

        Mr. Brewer could not be tried again in the case because he has been tried and convicted as an accomplice, prosecutors say. He was sentenced to life in prison. The third accomplice, Mr. Woodall, died in prison in April.

        Mr. Byrd's sister, Kim Hamer, said after Monday's hearing that the Tewksbury family will not benefit from her brother's death.

        “What will another murder prove for the Tewksbury family?” she asked.

        “I've never portrayed my brother as an angel,” Ms. Hamer said. “But we will stand by his side all the way. We will not stop trying to prove his innocence.”

        Presiding Appeals Judge Robert Gorman and Appeals Judges Ralph Winkler and Raymond Shannon did not say Monday when they would rule.


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