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Thursday, November 27, 2014
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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Justice, at long last

To those still distressed that John Byrd has finally paid with his life for murdering an innocent man, it needs to be remembered that Byrd lived nearly 19 years longer than his victim.

Defiant to the end and accusing Ohio of “state-sanctioned murder,” Byrd became the third man put to death in this state since executions were resumed three years ago.

Though a ridiculously cumbersome appeals process kept the Byrd case alive at taxpayer expense far too long, his death on Tuesday finally brought a measure of justice to the family of Monte Tewksbury, and yes, a measure of revenge as well. Mr. Tewksbury, who was killed while working at a second job at a convenience store to support his family, was 40 when he died. He'd be 58 now, enjoying his two grandchildren and looking forward to retirement.

Consider that the last man to be executed in Ohio before capital punishment resumed three years ago, Donald Reinbolt, died in the state's electric chair just 18 months after his arrest and just 13 months after his conviction. Reinbolt was executed March 15, 1963, before the Supreme Court's nationwide moratorium on capital punishment.

Much was made in the final stages of Byrd's appeals that doubt existed regarding his guilt, that maybe one of his buddies in that long-ago robbery actually stabbed Mr. Tewksbury. The fact remains that Byrd was there when the murder occurred and was an active participant.

Moreover, this is a case that had been reviewed by six different courts, including the highest court in the land, and by at least six dozen judges over the years, and all of them upheld the conviction. Did they all have it in for John Byrd?

Governor Taft deserves credit for resisting the pressure from death penalty opponents to stop the execution and for following, however belatedly, the rule of law.

Most Ohioans still support the death penalty and want it applied when a prison term is simply not enough. Life in prison, while undeniably an unpleasant prospect, is not adequate punishment for certain capital crimes. Prisons are not dark dungeons any more and inmates do not spend 12 hours a day on a rock pile.

Certainly it is fair to wonder if Byrd would have lived as long on the outside as he did in prison - given the life of drugs, alcohol, and violence he had chosen for himself - if he had never been arrested and incarcerated after Mr. Tewksbury's death.

It's also fair to speculate that one reason the Democrats have been out of power so long in Columbus is the lingering resentment that many Ohioans still feel for former Gov. Richard Celeste's 11th hour commutations of sentence for seven Death Row inmates just before he left office in 1991. What he considered compassion for the condemned was in fact blatant abuse of the justice system and the matter of guilt and penalties duly determined by juries and judges.

As for Byrd's bitter prediction, moments before he died, that Mr. Taft will not be re-elected next fall because of his handling of Byrd's case, fat chance of that. While we still believe Mr. Taft would be vulnerable on other issues to a strong challenge from a quality opponent, his re-election chances will not hinge in any case on John Byrd's fate.



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