LUCASVILLE, Ohio - Three days after convicted murderer and rapist Richard Cooey said his life wouldn't end if he could find a court to hear his legal claims, his death warrant expired at midnight last night after state attorneys and public defenders battled all the way to the nation's highest court.
Yesterday afternoon, a federal appeals court rejected the state's attempt to wipe out a delay in Cooey's execution, which had been scheduled for 10 a.m. at the maximum-security prison in Lucasville.
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided last night not to lift the stay. Attorneys said they received word at about 9:48 p.m.
Cooey has been on death row for nearly 17 years for kidnapping, raping, assasulting, and murdering 20-year-old Dawn McCreery and Wendy Offredo, 21, on Sept. 1, 1986 in a secluded area near Akron.
A state attorney said it could be "years" before Cooey faces another execution date.
"It is unfortunate that a legal wrinkle created by his lawyers gave him the opportunity to derail a constitutional and well-established guilty conviction for this horrible crime,'' said James Canepa, chief deputy of the state Attorney General's criminal division.
Cooey, 36, will be returned to death row in Mansfield today and the state won't be able to seek another execution date from the Ohio Supreme Court until the stay is lifted.
State attorneys expressed disappointment that the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court refused to lift the stay that U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster of Cleveland ordered Wednesday night.
Judge Polster, an appointee of President Clinton, cited June 10 letters from the appeals court's chief deputy clerk to two of Cooey's attorneys, Margery Koosed and Nathan Ray.
The court official said Cooey would be assigned a new attorney to handle federal appeals because of the appeals court's "dissatisfaction" with the quality of legal filings and arguments. The appeals court also questioned Ms. Koosed and Mr. Ray receiving about $100,000 and $72,000 respectively for representing Cooey in federal court.
Last Monday, Judge Polster appointed Greg Meyers, an attorney with the state public defender's office, to represent Cooey in federal court.
"In this case, not only does it not appear, based on the Sixth Circuit's letters to habeas appellate counsel, that [Cooey] may have been deprived of competent counsel in those proceedings, but that he was without any federal representation whatsoever for at least five weeks prior to his execution date,'' Judge Polster wrote.
The state disagreed, saying the appeals court's dissatisfaction with Ms. Koosed and Mr. Ray should not derail Cooey's execution by injection.
Cooey thought when 10 a.m. passed yesterday, the state would transport him from the death house back to his death row cell in Mansfield.
Officials told Cooey that the death warrant didn't expire until midnight, and so Cooey remained in his cell about 35 feet from the lethal injection gurney at the maximum security prison in Lucasville.