Ohio board rejects condemned man's request for mercy

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Associated Press | Updated - Jan 18th, 2019 @ 1:59pm | Posted - Jan 18th, 2019 @ 10:11am


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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Parole Board on Friday rejected a clemency request by a condemned man who says he's innocent of the fatal shooting of a volunteer addiction counselor and is asking that his life be spared.

Warren Keith Henness, who goes by his middle name, was convicted of killing 51-year-old Richard Meyers in Columbus in 1992.

Myers was a lab technician at a veterans hospital in Chillicothe in southern Ohio and frequently volunteered with Alcoholics Anonymous to assist people with addictions. He had been helping Henness find drug treatment for his wife, according to authorities.

The board said in a unanimous ruling said that Henness' claim of innocence was not persuasive and his account of the killing not reliable.

"Henness admitted he had told his attorneys so many stories that they did not know what was true," the board said.

The inmate is set to die by lethal injection on Feb. 13 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Gov. Mike DeWine has the final say, his first death penalty decision as governor. His office is reviewing the decision, a spokesman said.

Following the ruling, Henness' attorneys immediately asked the state Supreme Court to delay the execution. They cited a federal judge's ruling earlier this week that called the constitutionality of Ohio's three-drug lethal injection system into question, although the judge didn't halt the execution.

Judge Michael Merz said the evidence is now overwhelming that the first drug, midazolam, a sedative, does not render inmates so deeply unconscious as to prevent harm from the next two drugs. As a result, Henness will experience "severe pain and needless suffering," the judge said.

Under a test created by a previous U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, Henness couldn't demonstrate that a feasible execution alternative exists, and thus the execution can proceed, Merz said.

Prosecutors are expected to oppose the request for a delay.

Prosecutors said Henness kidnapped Myers, bound and then shot him at an abandoned water treatment plant, and then stole his credit cards, checks and car.

Henness, 55, his wife Tabatha Henness, and friend Ronald Fair drove around in Myers' car for several days afterward, forging the checks and using the credit cards, according to prosecutors.

Henness' wife and their friend were also implicated in the killing and provided the only evidence of Henness' guilt, according to court records. The two pleaded guilty to minor charges of forgery and then testified against Henness at trial.

Henness' attorneys have argued he deserves mercy because of lingering questions about the others' involvement in the killing.

In addition, they say Henness' lawyers at the time failed to fully investigate the case ahead of trial. Henness distrusted one of his attorneys so much that he rejected a plea deal that would have spared his life, according to Henness' clemency petition.

Prosecutors argue Henness has a history of lying and refusing to take responsibility for the killing.

David Stebbins, a federal public defender, also argued in a filing with the board this month that Henness has a consistent record of good behavior in jail and on death row, also making him a good candidate for mercy.

The parole board disagreed, noting Henness has a history of alcohol infractions in prison and contributed to problems with his attorneys through his unwillingness to provide consistent details.

Stebbins called the ruling disappointing and urged DeWine to judge the request for mercy independently.

"Henness is facing execution next month because of the failures of the legal system, not because he is one of the exceptional few worthy of the ultimate punishment of death," Stebbins said.

Ohioans To Stop Executions, the state's largest anti-death penalty group, urged DeWine to postpone executions until problems with Ohio's capital punishment system identified by a state Supreme Court commission are addressed.

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