Ohio Executes Man For Clerk's Slaying 19 Years Ago

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) - John W. Byrd Jr. died by injection on Tuesday, the first inmate executed since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981 to claim he was innocent.

Byrd, 38, calm and lying on a table at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, told his family he loved them and that they should keep fighting the death penalty.

"The corruption of the state will fall," Byrd said. "Governor Taft, you will not be re-elected. The rest of you, you know where you can go."

The time of death was 10:09 a.m. Byrd was executed after a federal appeals court refused to step in and public defenders said the law prevented any other appeals.

Byrd was sentenced to die for the murder of Monte Tewksbury at a suburban Cincinnati convenience store in 1983. Tewksbury was a Procter & Gamble employee who was moonlighting at the store to save money for his daughter's education.

Tewksbury's widow, Sharon, said she chose to celebrate her husband's life on Tuesday and not focus on Byrd's execution. She spent the morning with Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen, whose office obtained Byrd's conviction in 1983.

"There is no elation, no joy, no feeling of revenge -- just a feeling of relief and the realization that the violence done to Monte will no longer threaten his wife and children," Sharon Tewksbury said. "Monte is at a place where he could speak of forgiveness and mercy to the man who took his life. I cannot."

Byrd was put to death across the chamber from the electric chair he had chosen as his method of death to protest what he said was the brutality of capital punishment.

Byrd's choice of execution was removed in November when Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill that banned the use of the electric chair. The chair had not been used for an Ohio execution since 1963 and has yet to be removed from the prison.

The table used for the injection was surrounded by a drawn curtain, and Byrd could not see the electric chair.

The execution was only the third in Ohio since 1963. All have taken place in the past three years.

Byrd's death came three years to the day after Wilford Berry, who waived his appeals and asked the state to execute him for a 1989 murder, was put to death in 1999. Jay D. Scott, who was executed June 14 for a 1983 murder, had argued he shouldn't be executed because he had schizophrenia.

Tewksbury's niece, Kristi Pemberton, represented the family as a witness to Byrd's execution.

"I really don't think I saw anything other than Monte today," Pemberton said.

Byrd's sister, Kim Hamer, said her brother faced execution with dignity.

"My brother is no coward -- never was. He was no murderer," she said.

Byrd maintained he was innocent and that an accomplice, John Brewer, confessed to stabbing Tewksbury during a robbery.

Prosecutors and Attorney General Betty Montgomery argued that since Brewer already was serving a life sentence and could not be tried again, he was lying to protect Byrd.

Byrd claimed that he did not remember the events of the night of the slaying because he had passed out as a result of drinking and taking drugs. He said evidence in the case showed he did not stab Tewksbury.

Numerous appeals to delay Byrd's execution were filed in the past several days. Byrd was executed after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Tuesday refused to step in.

The Ohio public defender's office said it would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ohio Public Defender David Bodiker had maintained that killing Byrd would violate his constitutional rights because he is innocent. A federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court also had turned away that argument, and Gov. Bob Taft denied clemency.

Both supporters and opponents of the death penalty gathered on Tuesday to mark the execution.

In Cleveland, about 40 protesters gathered at Old Stone Church in the city's downtown for a prayer vigil.

"It only continues the cycle of violence. Until we get over this need for vengeance, we're in trouble," said Charles Murray, of Cleveland Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

Meanwhile, Madge Burton of Oxford and her 26-year-old son stood outside the prison to express their support for the death penalty. Burton said her two daughters and a granddaughter were murdered in 1984.

"I'm here to support the death penalty. I believe that in order to have freedom, we must have justice. If we have laws, they must be effective laws," said Burton, who was surrounded by about 100 anti-death penalty protesters.

Byrd had come within 45 minutes of being executed by electrocution on March 15, 1994, when there was a lapse in the appeals process. The Cincinnati appeals court overruled the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to allow the state to proceed.

Byrd's execution was the state's first in the daytime. The state in August announced executions would be moved to 10 a.m., during normal workday hours, from 9 p.m., when the state must pay overtime.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)