Man Executed In Mother-In-Law Slay

John Hicks, Ohio death row inmate, 11-26-05
Ohio on Tuesday executed the 999th person in the United States since the country resumed the death penalty nearly three decades ago, putting to death a man who was high on cocaine when he strangled his mother-in-law.

John Hicks, who killed his mother-in-law to steal her money so he could buy his VCR back from his dealer, returned the next day and suffocated his 5-year-old stepdaughter with duct tape over her mouth and nose, so she couldn't tell police he had been at the mother-in-law's apartment.

Hicks, 49, died by injection at 10:20 a.m. at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. He was the fourth person executed in Ohio this year and the 19th since the state resumed executions in 1999. He also was the 999th person executed since the United States reinstated the death penalty in 1977.

Meanwhile, Robin Lovitt, who was slated to be the 1,000th prisoner executed, was granted clemency by Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner.

Warner commuted Robin Lovitt's sentence to life in prison, Warner's spokesman Kevin Hall said. Lovitt was set to be executed by injection Wednesday night.

Arkansas death row inmate Eric Nance was executed by injection Monday night following a 1½ -hour delay so U.S. Supreme Court justices could consider separate claims that Nance is mentally retarded and that additional DNA testing might clear his name.

Hicks, 49, was quiet and calm when officials told him that Gov. Bob Taft refused Monday to commute his sentence from death to life in prison, said Andrea Dean, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Hicks had a pending appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied his request to delay his execution.

Hicks offered a tearful apology for the Cincinnati murders in an early November interview with Ohio Parole Board members and said he loved both victims – 56-year-old Maxine Armstrong and 5-year-old Brandy Green. He detailed the killings and said his cocaine high made him desperate and paranoid.

Defense attorney Marc Mezibov said Hicks should be spared because he was in the throes of a "cocaine psychosis" when he committed the murders.

Mezibov also argued that Hicks should be granted a new trial because prosecutors had suggested Hicks should be put to death before jurors had returned a verdict.

Appellate judges noted that prosecutors should not have mentioned sentencing before jurors had a verdict. However, they said evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.

Hamilton County Assistant Prosecutor Ronald Springman told the Parole Board that the use of duct tape in Brandy Green's murder signified premeditation. He also noted the brutality of the killings.

"Hicks is asking for mercy, but he gave no mercy to the victims," he told the board.

They unanimously recommended denying clemency.

For his special meal Monday, Hicks requested two medium rib eye steaks, a baked potato, a chef salad, garlic bread, apple pie a la mode, potato chips, A-1 Steak Sauce and a Pepsi.

He spoke by phone with his mother, his brother and with a family friend. He read the Bible and listened to the radio before going to sleep shortly after midnight.

Hicks got about five hours of peaceful sleep, Dean said, and woke up on his own Tuesday. He took a shower and shaved and asked for a couple sweet rolls in addition to the traditional breakfast of bran flakes, peanut butter and jelly, toast, pineapple juice, milk and coffee.

Hicks' two lawyers decided they would witness his execution when they met with him Tuesday morning.

Pamara Hughes, Armstrong's daughter and Brandy's aunt, was to watch the execution as the victims' representative, along with her husband and daughter.