Board Votes Against Delaying Execution So Inmate Can Donate Liver

The Indiana Parole Board (search) voted unanimously Friday against a death-row inmate's request that his execution be delayed so he can donate part of his liver to an ailing sister.

The board recommended that Gov. Mitch Daniels deny Gregory Scott Johnson's (search) request for clemency or a 90-day reprieve from his execution, scheduled for early Wednesday.

Johnson, who was convicted of the 1985 murder of 82-year-old Ruby Hutslar (search), said he wants time to donate part of his liver to his 48-year-old sister, Debra Otis, who lives in an Anderson nursing home.

Board member Randall Gentry suggested that media attention over the transplant issue had caused some to drift from the basic facts of the case — that Johnson had "admitted to the beating and brutal stomping death of a defenseless elderly lady."

Johnson, 40, was convicted of breaking into Hutslar's Anderson home, beating and stomping on her, then setting a fire to hide his crime. The state has said he admitted to the killing but changed his story after his conviction.

During a hearing before the board Monday, Johnson denied killing Hutslar but said he was in the house with an accomplice and set the fire.

The state attorney general's office took no position on the reprieve request, but said Johnson was clearly guilty and that his death sentence should be carried out.

Johnson's attorneys argue that he should be granted clemency on several grounds. Among other things, they said his case was not fully reviewed by the federal courts because an original appeal request was filed one day late. They also say prosecutors did not turn over certain evidence to defense attorneys before trial.

Michelle Kraus, one of Johnson's attorneys, said her client's blood type matches his sister's. She said that could make his liver compatible with Otis, but more time was needed to explore medical and ethical questions about such a transplant.

"He is trying to do something good," she said. "He has struggled to find good in his life."

Julie Woodard, Hutslar's great niece, said she did not wish any harm to Johnson's sister. But if Johnson were allowed to donate the liver, she said, "He is going to be remembered more as a hero for saving his sister than for this brutal murder."

Johnson's mother, Alice Newman, said she was devastated by the board's recommendation, but added that her son recently told her he is prepared to die if clemency is denied.

"I sometimes think that he'd be better off being put to death as he is staying in a little cubicle cell the rest of his life," Newman said.