Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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High court backs death for trucker

Former Toledoan shot 2 co-workers in 2007

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    Calvin C. Neyland, Jr., in 2008.

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COLUMBUS — Despite arguments that he was mentally ill when he shot and killed two co-workers in 2007, the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Calvin C. Neyland, Jr.’s convictions and death sentence.

By a vote of 5-2, the court upheld the former Toledo man’s convictions for the Aug. 8, 2007, killings at Liberty Transportation in Perrysburg Township during a meeting in which Neyland, a trucker, was about to be fired because of his increasingly erratic behavior.

Douglas Smith, 44, Neyland’s Sylvania Township branch manager, was worried enough about the meeting that he asked the company’s corporate safety director, Thomas Lazar, 58, of Belle Vernon, Pa., to attend. Both were killed.

The court’s majority rejected Neyland’s challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty and his claim that he was mentally ill at the time of the killings. Conflicting evidence was presented about Neyland’s mental state, including the suggestion that he suffered from paranoia and possibly schizophrenia, but he was found competent to stand trial.

Neyland, 50, remains Wood County’s sole inmate on Ohio’s death row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

His Toledo attorney, Spiros Cocoves, said he was “disappointed” in the ruling and said he will pursue whatever options remain. He could ask the Supreme Court to reconsider and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal. Neyland still has a federal avenue of appeals ahead.

Wood County Assistant Prosecutor Gwen Howe-Gebers, who argued the case, could not be reached for comment.

The state Supreme Court agreed that the prosecution should not have been allowed to present evidence to the jury of other weapons and ammunition not connected to the crime, which were found in Neyland’s motel room and a storage unit. But it found that was a harmless error that did not lead the jury to impose a death sentence.

“Nothing in the nature and circumstances of the offenses appears to be mitigating,” wrote Justice Sharon Kennedy for the majority. “Neyland shot and killed two officials at Liberty Transportation who were about to fire him. Neyland left notes in his storage unit before the shootings occurred that indicated his intent to carry out these offenses. These offenses establish horrific crimes that lack any mitigating features. Neyland’s character offers little in mitigation.”

She was joined in the majority by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith Lanzinger, Terrence O’Donnell, and Judith French.

Justices Paul Pfeifer and William O’Neill dissented.

Justice Pfeifer, who as a former senator helped to write Ohio’s capital punishment law, now opposes the state’s death penalty. But he has still voted to uphold death sentences under the law. In this case, he agreed Neyland was guilty but found his mental state should have taken the death penalty off the table.

Justice O’Neill believes the death penalty to be unconstitutional and routinely refuses to vote to set execution dates.

“Neyland’s mental illness was apparent as far back as 1999, when he simply fell through the cracks in the system,” he wrote. “At the time he killed Douglas Smith and Thomas Lazar, Neyland was living in his truck because he believed that people were breaking into his house to listen to the messages on his answering machine. ... It is plain that Neyland is not now mentally fit and that he was suffering from mental defects at the time he committed his terrible acts.”

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

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