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Published: Tuesday, 7/17/2012

Expert questions mental capacity of slaying suspect

Issue affects death-penalty eligibility

Cameo Pettaway is escorted from the Lucas County Common Pleas Court. He is charged in the slayings of a Springfield Township couple. Cameo Pettaway is escorted from the Lucas County Common Pleas Court. He is charged in the slayings of a Springfield Township couple.

An East Toledo man charged in the murders of a Springfield Township couple has an IQ "around 70" and meets the legal definition of mentally retarded, a forensic psychologist testified Monday.

"He's functioning currently at a third or fourth-grade level," Cleveland psychologist John Matthew Fabian said of Cameo Pettaway.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Bates said he will announce at 1 p.m. today whether he believes Mr. Pettaway, 23, of 133 Essex St. is developmentally disabled and therefore whether prosecutors may seek the death penalty if he is convicted of killing Lisa Straub, 20, and her boyfriend, Johnny Clarke, 21.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin today for both Mr. Pettaway and co-defendant Samuel Williams, 24, of 1626 Kelsey Ave., who are each charged with two counts of aggravated murder, one count of aggravated burglary, and two counts of kidnapping in the deaths of Ms. Straub and Clarke. The couple were found Jan. 31, 2011, in the Longacre Lane home of Ms. Straub's parents. Autopsies showed both had died of asphyxiation.

Attorneys for Mr. Pettaway contend their client is ineligible for the death penalty because he is developmentally disabled. Executing a person who has developmental disabilities was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002, although the high court left it to death-penalty states to define developmentally disabled in this context.

In December, 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the definition requires "(1) significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, (2) significant limitations in two or more adaptive skills, such as communication, self-care, and self-direction, and (3) onset before the age of 18."

Mr. Fabian, who was hired by defense attorneys, said he spent some 60 hours evaluating Mr. Pettaway and compiling a lengthy report for the court. Mr. Fabian said he interviewed Mr. Pettaway, his mother, his maternal aunt, and two women with whom he has children, and he reviewed his medical records as well as records from Toledo Public Schools, which indicate a history of academic and behavior problems.

Mr. Pettaway told him he had been placed in special-education classes from an early age, Mr. Fabian said.

"He had an IQ around 70 and his academic achievement scores were around 70 or below, so this is clearly mental retardation," Mr. Fabian said.

Mr. Pettaway failed ninth grade four times, drifted away from schools, and has never had gainful employment, he said.

Timothy Braun, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, countered that Mr. Pettaway's records indicate he never lost the "street attitude" identified as a problem for him as early as first grade. He had a history of fighting, disciplinary problems in school, disruptive and acting-out behavior as well as juvenile delinquency and criminal arrests as an adult.

"It's things like not being able to get a driver's license, but driving a car since you're 12 years old," Mr. Braun said. "He doesn't meet social norms, but he still does what he wants."

Charlene Cassel, a clinical psychologist with the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center, a private, nonprofit community forensic psychiatry facility, testified for the court, saying the tests she conducted and an interview with Mr. Pettaway led her to determine he is not mentally retarded, although she diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder.

Ms. Cassel said she determined Mr. Pettaway had a composite IQ of 79 with a 90 percent probability his IQ would fall somewhere "between 73 and 87."

Mr. Fabian took issue with Ms. Cassel's findings, saying she had not conducted an appropriate IQ test, that her test results were invalid because she read the questions for Mr. Pettaway, and that the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center was not qualified to do the type of evaluation required in a case like this.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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