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Ohio prison staff set to execute

Published: 
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
She said Van Hook slept only briefly and awoke shortly before 5 a.m. He showered,
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Calypso King of the World Mighty Sparrow. Photo by:file

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) — Ohio is set to put a condemned killer to death on Wednesday for a more than three-decade-old fatal stabbing in what would be the state's first execution in several months.

Robert Van Hook was sentenced to die for strangling and stabbing David Self after picking him up in a Cincinnati bar in 1985. Van Hook, 58, had no remaining appeals, and Republican Gov. John Kasich rejected his request for clemency without comment.

An Ohio prisons spokeswoman said Wednesday that Van Hook spent the morning meeting with Roman Catholic priests and friends. He spent much of the night lying on his bed and singing and later listening to music, spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.

She said Van Hook slept only briefly and awoke shortly before 5 a.m. He showered, asked for leftover strawberry cheesecake from his last meal the night before and performed a Buddhist chant with a friend who was visiting, according to Smith. She said Van Hook also took communion Tuesday night.

Smith says Van Hook's mood has been good and visits with friends and attorneys were upbeat.

A test of his veins on Tuesday, ahead of the lethal injection, didn't find any problems, she said.

Smith says execution witnesses for the Self family will include Self's brother, sister and brother-in-law. Van Hook's witnesses will be an uncle, a spiritual adviser and a priest.

At the time of the killing, Van Hook was suffering from long-term effects of untreated mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child and was depressed that his life seemed to be falling apart, his attorneys argued.

Kasich should have given more weight to Van Hook's military service and his inability to receive care from Veterans Affairs for his mental health and addiction issues after his honorable discharge, according to Van Hook's attorneys.

The Ohio Parole Board said that despite Van Hook's tough childhood, he was shown love and support by relatives he stayed with for long periods as a child. But that positive influence doesn't outweigh the "gratuitous violence" he demonstrated, the board said.

Previous attorneys representing Van Hook attempted a "homosexual panic" claim in his defense, or the idea that self-revulsion over sexual identity confusion contributed to a violent outburst. Van Hook's current lawyers say that was misguided, and overlooked his diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder from his childhood.

Seizing on that claim, prosecutors have dismissed the idea as nonsense, saying Van Hook made a practice of luring gay men to apartments to rob them.

Prosecutors note Van Hook has an extensive history of violence while incarcerated, including stabbing a fellow death row inmate in November.

Self's family supports the execution, telling the parole board last month that he is missed every day.

Authorities say Van Hook met Self at the Subway Bar in downtown Cincinnati on Feb. 18, 1985. After a couple of hours, they went to Self's apartment where Van Hook strangled the 25-year-old Self to unconsciousness, stabbed him multiple times in the neck and then cut his abdomen open and stabbed his internal organs, according to court records. Van Hook stole a leather jacket and necklaces before fleeing, records say.

In September 2017 the state put Gary Otte to death for the 1992 murders of two people during robberies over two days in suburban Cleveland.

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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus .

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