Thursday, August 15, 2002

Ohio high court delays execution of killer

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed the Aug. 27 execution of convicted killer Gregory Lott in response to an appeal based on his claim of mental retardation.

        The U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 20 that the execution of mentally retarded inmates is unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. But it left to the states the method of defining retardation.

        Mr. Lott, 41, was among several death-row inmates who filed appeals in the weeks after the ruling and is the first of them to have an execution date. The Supreme Court voted 6-1 to delay, with Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton dissenting.

        Mr. Lott was convicted of the 1986 slaying of John McGrath, who was attacked and set on fire in his East Cleveland home.

        The Ohio Supreme Court also turned down a motion Mr. Lott filed based on a claim of innocence. The court did not say whether it would accept Mr. Lott's request to reduce his sentence on his claim of mental retardation. The ruling Wednesday only means the execution will not take place Aug. 27, as previously scheduled.

        The U.S. Supreme Court ruling means that people charged with a killing cannot face a death sentence if they can show they are mentally retarded, generally defined as having an IQ of 70 or lower.

        Last month, a mentally retarded Pennsylvania man who murdered two archaeologists in 1988 became the first convict in the country to be taken off death row because of the landmark ruling.

        Assistant state public defender Joe Bodine said the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has measured Mr. Lott's IQ at 72.

        Mr. Bodine, whose office is defending Mr. Lott, said that number falls within the five-point margin of error accepted by the American Psychiatric Association, meaning Mr. Lott's IQ could be as low as 67.

        The state maintains no one on death row is mentally retarded.

        Mr. Lott should not be executed because he does “not act with the level of moral capability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct,” his lawyers argued, quoting the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

        Mr. Lott has scored as high as 86 on other IQ tests, and his own expert at trial said Mr. Lott had an IQ of 77, said Jon Oebker, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor who is fighting the appeal.

        Mr. Oebker added that Mr. Lott had not exhibited “any limitations of adaptive abilities that would lead to the conclusion of being retarded.”

        Justice Stratton, in her dissent, wrote that the trial court could have used that evidence in sentencing, and she also cited the other IQ tests given Mr. Lott.


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