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Published: Monday, 9/10/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Deadly encounter nears final act

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

CINCINNATI - On April 17, 1983, at approximately 11 p.m., two lives that had followed very different paths intersected for a few minutes inside a convenience store outside Cincinnati.

One life ended that night with the stab of a knife. The other is scheduled to end at 10 a.m. Wednesday with a surge of 1,800 volts of electricity.

Monte Tewksbury, a 40-year-old Procter & Gamble researcher, was looking for a change of pace, a “no-brainer,” when he decided to moonlight nights and weekends as a store clerk instead of his usual part-time stints at local hospitals.

He wanted to put away money for the college education of his three children, the oldest then 18.

John W. Byrd, Jr., a 19-year-old who'd been in and out of juvenile and adult institutions since his early teens, and buddy John Brewer donned ski masks before entering the small King Kwik store a couple of blocks from his boyhood home. A third man, William “Dannie” Woodall, waited in the van outside.

Four months later, a Hamilton County jury, convinced Byrd wielded the knife that ended Mr. Tewksbury's life, found him guilty of aggravated murder and robbery and sentenced him to death.

Mr. Tewksbury was born in 1942 in Lancaster, Ohio. A short, stocky, blond son of a Navy man, he played for his high school baseball team. In 1960, when he was a senior, he met sophomore redhead Sharon Lynch of Washington Court House , Ohio.

“He was a charming man and he eventually wore me down,” she said. “As I got to know him, it didn't take long before I knew this was the man I'd spend the rest of my life with.”

They wed on June 15, 1963, and, a year later, had their first child, Kimberly. Attending college classes on the side, Mr. Tewksbury took a full-time job as a technician at Procter & Gamble.

There were two more children over the next seven years. In 1973, the family bought its first home near Mount Healthy, a small town just inside the Cincinnati beltway.

“His great existence and job in life was getting his kids to baseball practice and music lessons,” Mrs. Tewksbury said. “There was rarely a moment in the house when a kid wasn't there. He was not only Dad to his own kids, he was dad to many others.”

It took him 10 years, but Mr. Tewksbury eventually earned enough credits to graduate from Wilmington College with a degree in biology. He decided to pursue his dream of medical school, applying to Ohio State University, but he was turned down. Mrs. Tewksbury said she believes the school thought he, then about 30, was too old. In the meantime, he worked his way up to monitor of clinical trials at Procter & Gamble. He took on part-time work to supplement the family income.

Mr. Tewksbury saw a help-wanted sign in the window of the King Kwik convenience store just a couple of blocks from his home in January, 1983.

“Call it premonition,” Mrs. Tewksbury said. “It was not something we wanted and we begged him not to do it. But Monte was tired of working at the hospitals. He wanted a no-brainer job where he could pick up extra money.”

About the time the future Mr. and Mrs. Tewksbury walked down the aisle in 1963, 15-year-old Mary Lou Saladin discovered she was pregnant by John W. Byrd, whom she started dating at the age of 13.

The two were married and “Johnny” was born the following Dec. 18. His father left soon after, starting his own career of crime.

Three more husbands and two boyfriends would follow. Family would later describe Byrd's childhood in court documents as one marred by abuse, violence, neglect, alcohol, and drugs.

Few would have guessed what lay in Byrd's future when in 1975, at the age of 12, the local press, police, and school lauded him and another boy as heroes when they helped rescue a first grader who'd fallen through the ice of a creek.

“Our school is extremely proud of John and I am sure that you share this pride with us,” wrote Jeanne Aston, the now deceased principal of the rescued boy's Mount Healthy elementary school, in a letter to Byrd's mother.

But Byrd struggled in school. Court records show he was often truant, frequently ran away from home, and had begun hanging around with his uncle, Delbert “Boo” Burton, just a few years his senior.

“My brother Delbert exposed John to smoking and drinking at an early age,” said Byrd's aunt, Connie Jarrett, in a 1988 affidavit. “John clung to Delbert and seemed to view Delbert as a father figure.”

Byrd was arrested for the first time at 13 and dropped out of school after the ninth grade.

“I wanted to beat his ass, the way he'd pick on my kids,” said a 63-year-old man who asked not to be identified. He still lives across the street from the house where Byrd, his mother, and sister, Kim Hamer, once lived in the mid-1970s. The modest house is just around the corner from the King Kwik.

“He'd shove them around and bully them,” said the neighbor. “He didn't get along with other kids too well. He was in fights constantly. I'd confront him and he'd look at you and say, `Who [the expletive] are you?” '

A 41-year-old man who was four years ahead of Byrd in school, who also declined to be identified, recalled him as a “punk, always hanging out on the street. . He always seemed like a bully.”

According to a psychologist who evaluated Byrd in 1988, he idealized his father, a man who, unknown to him, had spent most of his son's life behind bars for various crimes. While in his late teens, he finally met John W. Byrd, Sr., whom, the psychologist would later write, the son found to be a “bum, a real disappointment.”

In 1980, at the age of 16, Byrd overdosed on pills while visiting his uncle and was taken to an Indiana hospital for treatment, according to Mr. Burton's 1988 affidavit.

Byrd followed his father's example, serving time in juvenile and adult institutions in Ohio and Kentucky for everything from auto theft and drug violations to possession of contraband while incarcerated.

The contraband was a homemade knife.

In January, 1983, Byrd walked out of the Kentucky State Reformatory where he'd served a sentence for stealing a truck. About the same time, Mr. Tewksbury took that part-time job at King Kwik.

According to the scenario mapped out by prosecutors at the trial, Byrd, after a day of alcohol and drug use, hooked up in the late afternoon of April 17, 1983, with Brewer and Woodall, two men he occasionally worked with as a roofer.

Mr. Tewksbury, the sole clerk in the store, wasn't supposed to be working that Sunday night. He had switched shifts so he could attend a television taping involving his daughter the day before.

While Woodall waited in a van outside, Byrd and Brewer, wearing ski masks, entered the King Kwik about 11 p.m.

A few minutes later, a witness saw two men run from the store, jump into the van, and drive off. Bleeding internally from a knife wound to his right side, Mr. Tewksbury struggled outside the store to reach a phone. The phone inside the store had been ripped from the wall.

He called his wife at home. Sharon Tewksbury arrived in time to hold her husband as he lay bleeding to death. The knife had sliced his liver. The robbers had gotten away with $133.97 of the store's money as well as Mr. Tewksbury's watch, wallet, and wedding ring.

Byrd, Brewer, and Woodall were caught in the van about 1 a.m. in nearby Forest Park, roughly the same time that Mr. Tewksbury died at a nearby hospital. The trio had just participated in a midnight robbery of another convenience store.

“He is a cold-blooded killer with absolutely no remorse,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen has insisted.

Eighteen and a half years later, the King Kwik is gone, replaced with a heating and air-conditioning business. Woodall is dead, succumbing to lung cancer in April. Brewer is serving a life sentence at the state's super-maximum-security penitentiary in Youngstown.

But, as Ohio prepares to carry out Byrd's execution Wednesday, the case continues to be argued in courtrooms and the court of public opinion.

In January, his state lawyers revealed an affidavit signed by Brewer in 1989 in which he states he, not Byrd, leaped over the counter at the King Kwik that night and stabbed Mr. Tewksbury.

The courts and parole board have found Brewer's affidavit and a follow-up earlier this year, to be unbelievable, signed by a man serving a life sentence whose conduct behind bars has not made him a good candidate for parole when he becomes eligible in 2015.

His lawyers, with Byrd's agreement, sat on Brewer's first affidavit more than 11 years because it squarely placed Byrd at the scene of the robbery, something the defense previously had not conceded.

Perhaps most damaging to his quest for mercy, Byrd was a key player in the 1985 riot at Lucasville, taking correctional officers hostage and threatening to kill them. Also involved was Jay D. Scott of Cleveland, who died on the lethal-injection gurney on June 14 for a 1983 robbery-murder.

Byrd did not respond to requests for an interview. While he continues to fight his sentence in federal court, Byrd has selected electrocution as the means of his death at the hands of the state, his way of making his electrocution as ugly as possible for the state.

Despite his experiences with the rough teenager of the 1970s, the 63-year-old neighbor shook his head. “I never dreamed that things would turn out like that,” he said.



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