Attorney: Client’s execution too pricey

High court hears argument on Wood Co.’s only death row inmate

8/20/2013
BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Calvin Neyland, Jr., was convicted in 2008 of a double homicide at his former workplace.
Calvin Neyland, Jr., was convicted in 2008 of a double homicide at his former workplace.

COLUMBUS — The cost of executing Calvin C. Neyland, Jr., for two 2007 slayings at a Perrysburg Township trucking company represents an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, his attorney argued Tuesday in urging the Ohio Supreme Court to set aside his death sentence.

“So your argument is that, because it’s so expensive, the alternative should be imposed of life without parole?” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor asked.

“Exactly,” Toledo attorney Spiros Cocoves said.

The argument didn’t seem to resonate.

“There’s certain actions by the government that are appropriate for the government expenses,” Chief Justice O’Connor said. “For example, the penal system itself is a very expensive proposition, but that’s one of the functions of government. ... So I don’t understand how the expense issue becomes something that we need to take into consideration. Isn’t that a policy decision for the legislature?”

Neyland, 49, fatally shot his former boss, Douglas Smith, 44, of Sylvania Township, and the company’s corporate safety director, Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa., during a meeting in which Neyland was to be fired on Aug. 8, 2007.

Neyland was at first considered a valued truck driver, but his behavior became increasingly erratic to the point that customers were complaining. A traffic accident in which Neyland was at fault prompted the meeting. Mr. Smith had worried aloud about the meeting and had asked Mr. Lazar to attend.

Witnesses from a nearby business saw Neyland leave Liberty Transportation after the gunshots. Mr. Lazar died from multiple gunshot wounds; Mr. Smith was killed by a single gunshot in the head.

Neyland was convicted of fatally shooting his former boss, Douglas Smith, 44, of Sylvania Township, right, and a company employee, Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa.,  left, on Aug. 8, 2007.
Neyland was convicted of fatally shooting his former boss, Douglas Smith, 44, of Sylvania Township, right, and a company employee, Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa., left, on Aug. 8, 2007.

Neyland was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder on Oct. 30, 2008. He is Wood County’s sole death row inmate.

The high court did not immediately rule. The justices expressed more interest in whether Neyland suffered from a mental illness.

“There are facts in this defendant’s behavior leading up to the murders in question that, it would seem to me, would merit coming to our attention,” Justice Paul Pfeifer said.

Neyland was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder, a condition that falls short of mental illness. But one doctor did diagnosis him with mental illness. There was also reference to a 1999 diagnosis of mental illness when Neyland was in the court on bad-check charges.

Neyland’s paranoia was exacerbated during the trial by the leg restraints, likely making him less cooperative with his defense, Mr. Cocoves said.

He said Neyland’s illness worsened over time.

“It wasn’t until these tragic homicides that it finally came to somebody’s attention to get him treatment,” he said.

But Gwen Howe-Gebers, chief assistant county prosecutor, argued that Neyland functioned reasonably in his daily life, holding down a job and paying his bills.

“It was a more a mental condition than a mental illness,” she said.

But Justice William M. O’Neill pointed to the 1999 diagnosis.

“I’m troubled when we’re asked to ignore the record of mental illness and accept only the record of a personality disorder,” he said. “Clearly, he has a personality disorder because he killed two people.”

Justices O’Neill and Pfeifer oppose the death penalty. Justice O’Neill has refused to vote to schedule execution dates, but Justice Pfeifer has voted to set the dates despite his opposition.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.