Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Byrd tells widow he's not killer

We've all suffered, says condemned man's letter

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Facing death in the electric chair Sept. 12, John W. Byrd Jr. wrote a letter to the widow of the man he was convicted of killing, saying he is sorry for her loss and for threatening her family.

        But Mr. Byrd insists he did not stab Monte Tewksbury during a 1983 robbery in Colerain Township.

        “I pray every night that god touches your heart and gives you peace,” Mr. Byrd told Sharon Tewksbury in a one-page, handwritten note. “... I'm sorry for all your suffering, but I did not harm your husband,”

  Dear Mrs. Tewksbury,
  I want you to know that I do not know anything about your husband's watch and I don't know where its where abouts could be. Mrs. Tewksbury I'm truly sorry for your loss, we have all suffered, and through all our suffering there has been hate. Mrs. Tewksbury I did not kill your husband. I pray every night that god touches your heart and gives you peace. I'm also so sorry for the hateful things I've written to you. I was filled with hate back then. I'm sorry for all your suffering, but I did not harm your husband.
  God bless
        Mrs. Tewksbury released the letter Monday to the Enquirer.

        “I'm not buying it,” she said of the letter, which was faxed to her just before Mr. Byrd's Aug. 20 clemency hearing. “I don't believe it.”

        As prosecutors and defenders await a decision from Gov. Bob Taft on death or a commuted life sentence, Mrs. Tewksbury says she's still certain Mr. Byrd killed her husband and that he is not truly sorry.

        In his letter, Mr. Byrd admits for the first time he wrote a 1986 letter threatening Mrs. Tewksbury and her daughter, Kimberly Tewksbury.

        “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 in 1986. “I can make your world a living hell.”

        Mrs. Tewksbury received that threat eight days after she publicly protested a gourmet meal prosecutors served Mr. Byrd and another death row inmate as a reward for their pleading guilty to abducting two prison guards.

        In the latest letter, Mr. Byrd apologizes for what he said earlier.

        “I'm also so sorry for the hateful things I've written to you,” Mr. Byrd wrote. “I was filled with hate back then.”

        One of Mr. Byrd's attorneys, Gregory Meyers, said the apology is sincere. He said Mr. Byrd felt ashamed when prosecutors recently re-released the 15-year-old letter as part of their efforts to keep the execution on track.

        “By all accounts John is deeply remorseful,” Mr. Meyers said. “He wrote it in the old time, when he was still acting like a tough guy on the (death) row.”

        Also discussed in the apology is a wristwatch stolen from Mr. Tewksbury on the night of his murder. Although police state Mr. Byrd was wearing Mr. Tewksbury's Pulsar when he was arrested, it disappeared after it was reportedly given to Mr. Byrd's mother by mistake.

        Sharon Tewksbury mentioned the watch to a Columbus defense attorney, S. Adele Shank, who was reportedly trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Byrd. Ms. Shank, who did not return calls for comment, faxed Mr. Byrd's letter to Sharon Tewksbury.

        “I want you to know that I do not know anything about your husband's watch and I don't know where its where abouts could be,” Mr. Byrd wrote.

        Mrs. Tewksbury and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen question the timing of Mr. Byrd's letter, describing it as part of the defense's plan to win mercy from Mr. Taft.

        “Frankly, it's rather insulting that (Mrs. Tewksbury) got it so close to the day of the parole hearing,” Mr. Allen said.

        Mr. Byrd's plea for a commuted life sentence hinges on two sworn confessions from John Brewer, an accomplice to the robbery who insists he was the man who killed Mr. Tewksbury.

        The Ohio Public Defender's clemency plea also says Mr. Byrd has matured in prison, giving up the violence and threats that marked his early years on death row.

        There is no definite word on when the governor could announce his decision on clemency.

        On Monday, the Ohio Attorney General's Office filed written arguments with the Ohio Supreme Court contesting Mr. Byrd's innocence claim. The public defender wants the high court to order a trial court to reconsider Mr. Brewer's confessions.

        Assistant Attorney General James Canepa urged the high court not to block the executions, saying two lower state courts correctly rejected two sworn affidavits from Mr. Brewer as unbelievable.

        “At some point, the State is surely entitled to bring (Mr.) Byrd's never-ending collateral attacks to an end,” Mr. Canepa wrote. “And now, when both lower courts have found no sound reason to question the jury's findings, that time has come.”


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