Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Jurors could decide today on death for prison killing

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — A jury could decide today whether Timothy Hancock should die for strangling his cellmate at Warren Correctional Institution last year.

        After about five hours of deliberation Tuesday, the panel of six women and six men rejected an insanity plea. They found Mr. Hancock guilty of aggravated murder with a death penalty specification in the Nov. 13, 2000, killing of child molester Jason Wagner.

        The same jury will hear testimony from witnesses today before deliberating on a sentencing recommendation. Judge Neal Bronson must approve the recommendation if the jury suggests death.

        Mr. Hancock's sister, Theresa Morlock, of Edgerton, Ohio, and other family members are set to testify about Mr. Hancock's background and declining mental health in an effort to keep him off Ohio's death row.

        However, Mrs. Morlock said her brother, who already has served nearly 12 years of a sentence of 24 years to life for killing a family friend, has other plans. He has objected to any testimony from relatives.

        “Tim said he will take the stand and tell them there is no mitigation, to give him the death penalty,” Mrs. Morlock said.

        Added Mr. Hancock's father, Joseph: “I know Tim's mind-set. He will not spend a lot of years in prison. He will kill himself.”

        Mr. Hancock, standing between his two lawyers in the Warren County courtroom Tuesday, stared forward and had no expression, but his relatives cried quietly and clutched hands as the verdict was read.

        “Apparently the jury believed he planned it in spite of testimony from the doctor that to me proved he didn't,” said Joseph Hancock.

        Family members raised concerns about the verdict, saying a juror appeared to be sleeping Tuesday during closing arguments.

        Mr. Hancock was being treated for psychosis when he killed Mr. Wagner, a 25-year-old, high-profile inmate serving 44 years to life in the 1999 abduction, rape and attempted murder of 3-year-old Ashley Taggert of Lancaster.

        Defense lawyers said their 31-year-old client “snapped” when Mr. Wagner bragged about the Lancaster case, made a sexual overture to Mr. Hancock and rubbed his leg.

        Evidence showed that Mr. Hancock was diagnosed since 1990 with mental illnesses that include paranoia, schizophrenia and psychosis.

        Prosecutors maintained that Mr. Hancock had faked his mental illnesses through the years to get transfers to other prisons and preferred cell assignments.

        Assistant Prosecutor Joanne Hash said Mr. Hancock planned the killing of Mr. Wagner because he didn't want a cellmate.


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