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Death row inmate seeks clemency

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COLUMBUS - Joseph Lewis Clark credits God for keeping him alive when he tried to kill himself more than 20 years ago, but he knows the state of Ohio plans to finish the job on May 2.

Now a great-grandfather with a touch of gray in his hair and beard, Clark, 57, sobbed at times during his first interview since the Ohio Supreme Court scheduled his execution.

"God kept me," said Clark during an interview conducted at the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown on behalf of the Ohio Legislative Correspondents Association.

"I tried to take my own life 21 years ago ," he said. "I was in the county jail. I guess God kept me alive then. He's been the one who has kept me strong all these years."

Clark shot and killed David Manning, 23, on Jan. 13, 1984, during an armed robbery of a Toledo gas station.

Clark's taped confession helped convict him, and he was caught with the murder weapon, a 32-caliber handgun. He apologized to the Manning family before the jury recommended a death sentence.

He partly blamed his escalating drug addiction for a life of crime that led to the spree that left two people dead in separate robberies. He has spent more than half of his life behind bars.

He received a life sentence following a separate trial for the murder of Donald Harris, 21, who was shot in the back of the head two days earlier during a robbery of a Lawson Milk Co. store at 4401 Hill Ave. He has exhausted his state and federal appeals.

He also shot a man as he robbed him at an ATM machine. The victim survived.

"I made mistakes," said Clark. "I felt bad about them after they were over. If I had thought about what I was doing before I did it, maybe I wouldn't have done it."

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro's office plans to oppose Clark's attorneys' attempts at an April 11 clemency hearing to persuade Gov. Bob Taft to grant him mercy.

"Joseph Clark went on a brutal crime spree, killing two people and seriously injuring another," said Petro spokesman Kim Norris. "The courts have appropriately reviewed this case and upheld his just sentence and conviction."

Clark insisted he had no intention of killing anyone as he followed Mr. Manning, a father of two and a clerk at Clark Oil gas station at 3070 Airport Highway, back into the station after he'd finish helping a customer.

"This wasn't the first time I was watching the gas station," he said. "I robbed it once before."

He said he ordered Mr. Manning to open a floor safe, but the clerk did not have the combination. He then demanded cash from the register.

"He handed me the money out of the cash register, and as I proceeded to leave, he started saying a few things like cuss words, you know," he said. "I don't know if he realized I was one of the guys who robbed him once before. He started coming toward me with something like a metal rod or something in his hand.

"As he was coming toward me, I sort of somehow squeezed the trigger off and shot him," he said. "I just left then. Just left. I didn't know if he was dead. "

Clark won't be permitted to attend the clemency hearing.

Members of the Manning family will be able to testify before the board. Unless the governor intervenes, Clark will become the 21st person, and the first from Lucas County, executed in Ohio since the state resumed carrying out the death penalty in 1999.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.

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