Monday, February 3, 2003

A cruel penalty for victims

Nearly 18 years ago, David Brewer called up Sherry Byrne and lured her to a motel. He raped her, then stuffed her in the trunk of his car where she was trapped for 10 hours, bound and gagged with wire and duct tape.

She made a "Help Me" sign with lipstick, and several motorists saw it sticking out of the trunk and reported it to police. But Brewer drove her to a secluded farm lane. He strangled her with a necktie, broke her neck, stabbed her 14 times and slit her throat, then stuffed the body back in his trunk and drove home to his wife.

Now he sits on death row, where he belongs. After 18 years of appeals, the Supreme Court has rejected his case.

Salt in the wounds

But wait: Nine University of Cincinnati law students say his sentence should be reviewed.

Whom do we believe? Prosecutors who convicted Brewer? Dozens of judges who have been involved in the case? Or nine law students working on an Innocence Project to save killers like Brewer?

I believe Joe Byrne, who knows this case inside and out. Sherry was his wife. His scars never healed. And now a few misguided students have rubbed salt in his wounds.

"There is nobody on this planet who could look at that case and say he's not guilty," he said.

Mr. Byrne, now a New Jersey accounting executive, grew up in southwest Ohio and worked at the Chiquita Center on the day his wife of seven months was murdered. "Sherry called me at 10:15 a.m. at my office in downtown Cincinnati to excitedly relay that a friend of ours, and my college fraternity `Big Brother,' David Brewer, had just called her and invited her to come and see him and his wife, Cathy, at a motel near our home in Springdale," he recalled.

Sherry took along her puppy, "Bo." Brewer was waiting for her alone. It was the last Joe Byrne ever heard from his wife.

Brewer confessed. The case was airtight.

A lawyer game

But the UC law students applied standards used by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who commuted more than 160 death sentences as he left office.

The students said on Jan. 17 that 88 of the 204 men on death row in Ohio deserve "substantial review.''

That's a cruel joke to the families of victims, who have endured years of stalling appeals, flimsy technicalities and lies.

"The appeals process is needed for sure, but there is clearly a time where it becomes nothing but a game to the lawyers," Byrne said.

He says the law students' research was "extraordinarily superficial." He should know. Brewer's brutal crime meets the rape and kidnapping standard for capital punishment in Ohio. And it also meets the Illinois test, which includes torture of murder victims.

Sherry Byrne, 21, was tortured for 10 hours - raped, beaten and stuffed in the trunk of a car. Maybe the law students missed that.

Death penalty opponents who twist the truth to protect killers are also torturing victims' families.

Where's the compassion for them?

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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