Court ruling calls off Cooey execution

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) - After finding out the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld a lower court ruling to postpone his execution, convicted murderer Richard Cooey immediately called his grandmother with the news.

"It was the first thing he had to do," said attorney Margery Koosed. "He thinks of her as all of his family wrapped up in one person."

The Supreme Court late Thursday upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster to postpone the execution so Cooey's new lawyer can have more time to study his case.

Cooey, convicted in the rape and murder of two Akron-area women in 1986, was scheduled to die at 10 a.m. Thursday, but proceedings in the federal appeals court and the Supreme Court put off the execution.

Cooey spent Thursday afternoon discussing his case with his lawyers. He was "anxious during the day but relieved," to hear of the court's decision, Koosed said.

Should the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deny Cooey's claim of ineffective counsel, the Ohio Supreme Court would set a new execution date.

Mark Gribben, a spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, said his office was disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision.

"The question of Mr Cooey's counsel has already been settled," he said. "This is rehashing old ground... We're disappointed that this situation has been prolonged to this extent."

Cooey, 36, was 12 hours from being executed when Polster on Wednesday granted the request of Cooey's lawyer for more time to prepare. The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit rejected the state's appeal of Polster's decision.

Nine of 12 circuit judges participated in the ruling, but the number who voted to uphold the postponement was not disclosed.

Three judges removed themselves from the vote but did not say why.

Polster appointed Gregory Meyers of the Ohio Public Defender's office to take over the case Monday after a federal appeals court dismissed Cooey's previous attorneys out of concerns over the quality of their work.

"Ultimately, I have concluded that the integrity of the federal court would be impugned if the state of Ohio executes Richard Cooey tomorrow," Polster said in his ruling late Wednesday.

James Canepa, chief deputy of the office's criminal division, said Polster was being overly cautious and did not have a constitutionally sound reason to postpone a valid sentence.

The appeal Meyers filed in Cleveland said the Ohio Public Defender's office has not had enough time to assess the case.

Polster appointed Meyers to the case after the 6th Circuit told Koosed and Nathan Ray in June that it was dissatisfied with the quality of their court filings on behalf of Cooey and the amount of fees they were paid for representing him in federal court. Koosed is still representing Cooey before state courts.

Koosed and Ray misrepresented facts in the court record, presented frivolous claims and arguments and raised errors from his trial that had never been brought up before -- a violation of the federal appeals process, Meyers said in his request for a delay.

Polster said that based on the 6th Circuit's letters to Koosed and Ray, not only was Cooey possibly deprived of competent counsel, he also was without any federal representation for at least five weeks before his execution date.

Gov. Bob Taft on Tuesday denied Cooey's request to reduce his sentence to life in prison.

Cooey admits he kidnapped, robbed and raped sorority sisters Wendy Offredo, 21, and Dawn McCreery, 20, in September 1986. He denied he killed them, but says he's "morally" responsible for the murders.

According to court documents, Cooey was on leave from the Army when he and a friend, Clint Dickens, attacked the women.

Dickens was 17 then and could not be sentenced to death. He is serving a life sentence.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)