COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Parole Board on Tuesday rejected clemency for a death row inmate who has argued he is too fat to be humanely executed by injection.
In its unanimous decision, the parole board rejected arguments by Richard Cooey that he received poor legal help during his trial and later appeals.
Cooey is scheduled to die Oct. 14 for raping and murdering two University of Akron students in 1986. If executed, he would be the first inmate put to death in Ohio since Christopher Newton was executed last year for killing a prison cellmate over their chess games.
The parole board said it could not find a "sufficient, justifiable basis for mercy" for Cooey, who says in a separate federal lawsuit that he is too obese to be put to death. He argues his weight and a drug he takes for migraine headaches could interfere with one of the lethal injection drugs.
It's unlikely Cooey, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 267 pounds, would have been spared at trial if his attorneys had taken a different approach to offering evidence, the parole board said. Cooey also committed a crime of exceptional brutality that not even his abusive childhood or substance abuse can explain, the board said.
Cooey and a co-defendant kidnapped Wendy Offredo, 21, and Dawn McCreery, 20, after disabling their car by dropping a chunk of concrete on it from a highway overpass. They choked and beat the women to death after repeatedly raping them, then carved X's in their abdomens.
The board also noted Cooey's unsuccessful 2005 escape attempt from Death Row and said Cooey has repeatedly broken prison rules, including fighting, having pills in his cell and threatening staff.
The recommendation goes to Gov. Ted Strickland who must decide whether to follow or reject it. Since taking office, Strickland has denied clemency for three inmates, two of whom have been executed. In January, Strickland commuted the sentence of a fourth inmate, John Spirko, to life without parole citing a lack of evidence linking Spirko to a 1982 murder.
Spokesman Keith Dailey said Tuesday Strickland will review Cooey's entire case before making a decision.
Cooey's execution also would also be the first execution in Ohio since the end of an unofficial national moratorium on executions that began last year while the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed Kentucky's lethal injection procedure.
The clemency request was a long shot for the 41-year-old Cooey.
State prison records show that out of 35 requests to the parole board for mercy, the panel has recommended clemency just once under the state's death penalty law. The board recommended mercy for Jerome Campbell in 2003 based on faulty evidence presented at his trial. Then-Gov. Bob Taft followed the recommendation and commuted Campbell's sentence to life.
Cooey's attorney Eric Allen said he wasn't surprised by Tuesday's decision given that history. He said the next step is lobbying Strickland to grant clemency.
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh praised the decision. She said Cooey was a violent murderer who has shown a continuing lack of remorse and sympathy.
Walsh said last week she will investigate a claim Cooey made in 2003 that he killed a man for beating up his sister, a crime he says he was never prosecuted for.
Cooey made the claim in the state death house hours before he received a reprieve from his first scheduled execution. Allen said he doesn't recall Cooey saying that and questioned the value of such an investigation.
"It's not a good use of Summit County's money in my opinion," Allen said. "What are you going to do with that information if it comes out that it's true?"